1968 / Best Actress / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actress

Film #255: Rachel, Rachel (1968)

After a couple of macho war films and an outback adventure I was ready for something a little more sedate. This came in the form of Paul Newman’s directorial debut Rachel, Rachel a film that also starred his wife Joanne Woodward as the film’s eponymous heroine.

I say heroine, but Rachel is much more of an ordinary woman who most would describe as a bit of a wallflower. Rachel has lived in the same house all her life, while she is now teaching to the same school she attended. While her siblings have all moved on, she has been left behind to care for their widowed mother. Rachel doesn’t like to socialise with anyone and the closest relationship she has is with fellow teacher Calla. However, after the two attend a revival meeting together, Calla reveals that she is in love with Rachel and clumsily makes a move on her. After rebuffing her friend’s advances, Rachel meets an old acquaintance in the form of the charming Nick Kazlik. Nick attempts to secure a date with Rachel, but once again she tries to blow him off. Eventually he wears her down and Rachel has her first sexual experience with him. She immediately plans a future for herself and Nick, but when he reveals he was only looking for something physical Rachel is distraught. Her pain worsens when she realises she might be pregnant, and resolves to move away in order to raise her child in a more comfortable environment.

Released in 1968, Rachel, Rachel is definitely one of the new breed of films which shy away from convention. Throughout the film, Newman visualises Rachel’s fantasises and flashbacks, as she imagines several scenarios that never occur. In addition we hear her inner-monologue a lot of the time, which I felt became annoying towards the end. What I did like was the film’s depiction of how small-town life can drag you down and how seeing the same faces every day can drive you insane. Rachel was an intriguing central character whose daydreams and flights of fancy were all in keeping with the dreary setting. One criticism I have of the film is that it seemed awfully episodic and I don’t feel that the narrative flowed as much as it should’ve done. However, I would still recommend the film, mainly because of the brilliant central performance from Joanne Woodward. Woodward held my attention throughout the film and totally brought Rachel to life, perfecting every single little mannerism. I was shocked that Woodward didn’t win the Best Actress Oscar but then saw that this way the year in which both Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Streisand won the award. Also worth a mention is Estelle Parsons as the closeted lesbian Calla, Parsons proves how great an actress she is as her performance here is a million miles away from her turn in Bonnie and Clyde. While I can’t say Rachel, Rachel is perfect, it is a lovingly crafted film with a great central performance. I also enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to sit through endless scenes of gun battles and instead got to spend time with the characters, which I found to be a refreshing change.


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