Rachel, Rachel (1968)

Note: Tuesday is usually the day for a ‘TMP Recommends: Five Films on TCM’ post, but I simply don’t have time to make that post today. (Next week is my spring break, and I’m scrambling to get a lot of work done this week so I can actually enjoy some time off, rather than having a non-break break!) In its place I’m sharing a review I already had drafted, of a film I recently discovered through WatchTCM. I apologize for this abrupt schedule change. ‘TMP Recommends’ will return next week!

Rachel Cameron (Joanne Woodward) spends her days teaching school in small-town New England and her nights keeping house for her mother.

It’s a lonely life, and often an unhappy one. Her one friend outside of the home is Calla (Estelle Parsons), a fellow teacher at the school.

(Image via m@g-cine)

(Image via m@g-cine)

One day, Rachel runs into an old classmate, Nick (James Olson). They haven’t seen each other since high school, but like Rachel, Nick has also become a teacher. Stepping out of her comfort zone, Rachel agrees to go on a date with him and the two become lovers.

The relationship changes Rachel’s life, but not necessarily for the better. Paul Newman’s Rachel, Rachel, released in 1968, tells her story.

I’ve seen a few of the films in which Joanne Woodward and her husband Paul Newman shared the screen. In this film, Newman directs Woodward in her starring role.

Woodward gives the type of subtle and sensitive, but also strong performance that I’ve come to expect from her.

Rachel is a unique character, and the viewer gets to know her very well. Woodward narrates some of the character’s thoughts, allowing the viewer to gain a fuller understanding of the way that she sees the world, and why she acts the way that she does.

Brief flashbacks are also incorporated, giving the viewer glimpses, or small morsels of information about Rachel’s past. The flashbacks are brief — just long enough to keep the viewer intrigued by how her childhood plays into the way that her life has turned out. She grew up as the daughter of a mortician father and a highly judgmental mother, and obviously her parents have had a great impact on her.

The film has an independent feel to it. If it were released today in the midwest, it would probably be shown at a Landmark Theatre rather than at one of the many multiplex chains. (This probably seems like an odd thing to point out, but while watching I couldn’t help but think “This is totally something that would play at the Maple,” haha.) It’s somewhat slowly paced, and more character-driven than focused on plot and conflict.

Newman strives for realism in his filmmaking, sharing a piece of Rachel’s life in a way that is not over-dramatized. A story like this could have easily been written as a Sirk-esque melodrama, with mother and daughter throwing insults at each other, or [MILD SPOILER] Rachel and Nick being torn apart by tragedy rather than differing aspirations. [END SPOILER] We get a few daydream sequences, but that’s as far away from realism as the film goes.

(Image via Down on the Street)

(Image via Down on the Street)

I’m having trouble assigning a score to Rachel, Rachel. Joanne Woodward’s performance is very good, as is the approach that Newman takes to telling the story. But despite these positives, I didn’t love the film. Somewhere, there was a disconnect for me. I was never fully engrossed, and had no strong emotional response to the film (though I loved Woodward’s ending monologue). For now I’ll leave it unscored, until I can give it a re-watch and some additional analysis!

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