Rachel is a 35 year old school teacher who has no man in her life and lives with her mother. When a man from the big city returns and asks her out, she begins to have to make decisions about her life and where she wants it to go.
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Thirty-five year old spinster and virgin Rachel Cameron is a sad, lonely woman. She lives in the small town of Japonica, Connecticut where she grew up. She teaches second grade at Japonica Elementary School and lives with her highly demanding widowed mother (her funeral director father passed away fourteen years ago) in the same apartment above a funeral home where she grew up, despite the home now not owned by them. Rachel often uses her mother as an excuse not to do things. Rachel represses her emotions, and is prone to daydreaming to envision alternate paths for herself in certain situations if she only had the nerve to do those things. Even when Nick Kazlik, a childhood acquaintance who has returned to Japonica for a summer visit with his family, makes it clear that he wants to have fun with her while he's in town, she can't act on his request out of fear of the unknown. But after a couple of incidents with her only real friend Calla Mackie, who is a fellow teacher at the school, ...Written by
Joanne Woodward effectively plays a bored and boring middle-aged school teacher who still lives with her mother at a funeral home in Connecticut. She's on the verge of mental collapse, but hides it well and pretends everything's okay. A guy from her childhood comes to town from the big city (James Olson) and her appetite for change comes to the fore.
This potent drama was Paul Newman's first stab at directing and it's the best cinematic depiction of the inward struggle of flesh and spirit -- id and superego -- I've ever seen. This struggle explains why it's called "Rachel, Rachel." Rachel is experiencing the undercurrent conflict between spiritual and carnal impulses. She's stuck between goody-goody Rachel and libertine Rachel and is therefore in living limbo. Various outside factors encourage this lifeless state: Disturbing childhood memories of living in a funeral home, a mother who essentially views Rachel as her personal servant and a genuine friend who's love is starting to become unhealthy (Estelle Parsons).
The film features a mind-blowing pentecostal church sequence that lasts 10-12 minutes. I can't believe Newman had the cojones to include this scene and it's pulled off expertly with Terry Kiser as the guest preacher who "speaks in tongues," which is what Calla (Parsons) tells Rachel when it's reveal that he's the speaker. Parsons is fabulous here, by the way.
Due to the subject matter and the fact that this is a drama there are some boring stretches, so you have to be in the mood for a serious drama. Nevertheless, the film deserves credit for having the gonads to show real life and refusing to be politically correct -- an amazing drama.
In case you didn't know, Newman and Woodward were husband & wife for 50 years, up to his death in 2008.
The film runs 101 minutes and was shot in Connecticut.
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