My grandma would love this movie (derogatory)!

Rachel Hendrix is a two-hour character study of the titular woman, Rachel Hendrix (Lori Singer), shown at the Athena Film Festival this weekend, who has, in the past year, experienced the death of her husband and the rise of COVID-19. The movie takes place in the spring of 2021 when Rachel is teaching English at a college somewhere in the South. Her students love her; her department loves her; she’s doing great…but, she’s heavily isolating herself from her friends and family in order to grieve the loss of her husband. By the end of the movie, we see some growth, and the movie ends at a party with her family and close friends at her beach house.

Let’s start from the beginning. The opening scene follows Rachel as she walks through her beach house at night after she arrives. To be honest, when watching the scene, I thought the whole movie would be like that: quiet. However, when she awakes the next morning, you’re greeted with yelling from her (dead) husband and young children, a memory from her past. She shakes herself awake to realize that he’s not there; they’re not there; it’s not real. Grief is a hard topic to cover, and it was done brilliantly in this scene. The longing for the one you love to be back, but it’s never possible. We also see her grapple with this in a later scene in which she describes a dream that her husband is in. We see that when she awoke, she grabbed the comforter, screamed, and wished he was still there. It’s hard to watch and evokes a certain fear of our own mortality.

The consistent theme throughout the movie is the temporality of life. We begin with the death of Rachel’s husband, then move to the death of the boyfriend of Ann (Kim Sandwich), the daughter of Rachel’s close friend, and finally to Susan (Kersti Bryan) discovering her childhood summer crush died fighting in Iraq. This constant repetition of death, loss, and grieving gives us a slap in the face to say: “THIS MOVIE IS ABOUT DEATH.” Okay, I get it. Thank you! Though grief and death are important concepts to cover, I think the director and writer Victor Nunez could have done it better. I don’t think this constant reprise of death and mourning was the way to get the point across. 

Another downfall was the lack of any people of color in the movie. There is one (1, like singular, three minus two) man of color in the movie, named Omid. His race and nationality are never discussed in the film, but the Tony Award-winning actor, Dariush Kashani, is from Tehran, Iran. Besides him, there is not one other person of color in the entire film. 

Let us also note the appearance of the confederate flag in the film. I am someone who believes everything in literature and film is intentional, nothing is misplaced, and nothing is done just for the sake of doing it. While Rachel is driving through her down, she passes a house with both an American flag and a confederate flag hanging in front. I was shocked. Astounded. Flabbergasted. I saw this movie because I thought it would be a beautiful character study on an older, powerful woman, instead, I received this jab in my side of blatant racism. Yes, she lives in the South, but does that make it okay? Absolutely not. This moment in the film made me so uncomfortable and to know that this was a deliberate choice makes it so much worse.

The movie does include some queer representation. Two professors that Rachel interacts with are queer, including Omid. However, their queerness and identity are not relevant to the story at all. It appears it doesn’t pertain to Rachel, that she doesn’t care, so therefore it’s not central to the film. It also appears that they threw in these characters to tokenize them. They were not there to showcase the power of queer love, they were there to check off a box in the writing room. I’m not saying that every modern story written needs to feature multiple queer characters, but I am saying that if you’re going to include queer characters that are central to the story, make their queerness an actual piece of who they are, not just a little dusting on the top of their character description.

There is also an incredibly uncomfortable moment to watch in the film in which Omid asks Rachel if she’s going to get herself back out there. She replies that if she were ten years younger and he wasn’t gay she would go for him. Then she goes further and says maybe if they drink enough, it’ll happen. Wow, Rachel! Thank you for diminishing Omid’s identity to say that his desire is to actually be with her, not the man he actually loves. This is so incredibly problematic, wording alone, but the delivery of the lines makes it a million times worse. She doesn’t say it in a tone of irony or sarcasm, she says it incredibly seriously, as if to imply she would actually go for him if she drank enough bourbon. Let’s call that what it is: predatory behavior.

The movie is all-around problematic, but it’s also out of touch with a younger audience. The movie does center around Rachel who is pretty old. She has two grown children who have their own children. To be fair, I think I was the youngest one in the audience at the screening on Sunday. Most viewers were Barnard alums, and I am a mere Barnard student, so therefore, they must be older than me. Anyways, the lines written and delivered by younger people, Ann, for example, felt a lot like when my grandma told me to eat a pecan pie to heal my eating disorder. Telling kids that they’re the solution to all the world’s problems is not actually helping to provide them with a solution, it just terrifies them. For me personally, knowing my generation is the future of our planet, scares me so much, so why is it portrayed as a given by Rachel? It also seems to me that that is the sentiment she holds: she doesn’t have to do anything about the decline and fall of the Earth as we know it.

This movie takes place in 2021, while the pandemic was still at large. This movie would have been better (not good) if the masks stayed on in public spaces. The characters would begin with them on, but when delivering an important line or trying to showcase some emotion, they would pull their masks down. This irked me. Eyes are incredibly powerful and can convey so much emotion without the rest of the face. Additionally, this is the problem that many people had (and continue to have when wearing masks) in interpreting the emotions of those around them. This is something that remains difficult for me, and I think it would have made the movie a lot more interesting if that had been left in. It would have been a great feat of directing and acting to make it work well, but the payoff would have been immense. 

Also, the costuming was bad. Like really bad. Not even in the sense I didn’t appreciate the outfits, I mean I didn’t, but in the sense that the outfits were not things that each character would actually wear and did not fit the overall vibe of the time. The outfits Ann, who has just completed her senior year (which also doesn’t make sense with the general timeline of the movie) wears outfits straight out of 2015 Tumblr. What I would give to go back to that time. Matty Healey and Halsey back together? Amazing. But those aren’t clothes that I, or anyone in my high school, wore during my senior year in 2021. Rachel also dresses like a lawyer when she goes to the university to teach, which is an interesting choice considering she dresses like a coastal grandmother the other 70 percent of the time she’s not at work. I have never seen an English professor—or any professor for that matter—dress in a pantsuit or a skirt suit for a regular 11:40 AM on Wednesday.

All in all, I did not like this movie. It was out of touch and out of place. It definitely markets to a very specific audience—rich, old, white women—which is who Barnard intended to see the movie. They have to put something on the menu for the old biddies out there, even if it tokenizes minorities and features a symbol of slavery, right? Horrible. There was so much wrong with this movie and I can’t believe I spent two hours of my life watching it.

Rachel Hendrix via Athena Film Festival