|Directed by||Paul Newman|
|Produced by||Paul Newman|
|Screenplay by||Stewart Stern|
|Based on||A Jest of God|
by Margaret Laurence
|Music by||Jerome Moross|
|Edited by||Dede Allen|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.-Seven Arts|
|Box office||$3,000,000 (rentals)|
Rachel, Rachel is a 1968 American technicolor drama film produced and directed by Paul Newman and starring Joanne Woodward in the title role. The screenplay by Stewart Stern is based on the 1966 novel A Jest of God by Canadian author Margaret Laurence. The plot concerns a schoolteacher in small-town Connecticut whose sexual awakening and gaining of independence takes place in her mid-thirties. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Actress.
Rachel Cameron (Joanne Woodward) is a shy, 35-year-old spinster schoolteacher living with her widowed mother in an apartment above the funeral home once owned by her father in a small town in Connecticut. School is out for summer vacation and Rachel figures it will just be another lonely and boring summer for her. (It's implied that she may even hate summer as her job provided somewhat of an escape from her domineering mother who's always trying to compare her to her sister, who married a successful businessman in Boston.) Fellow unmarried teacher and best friend Calla Mackie (Estelle Parsons) persuades her to attend a revival meeting, where a visiting preacher encourages Rachel to express her need for the love of Jesus Christ. Rachel is overwhelmed by God's grace, baring so much pent-up emotion, that she is humbled after the service; comforting her, Calla suddenly begins to kiss Rachel passionately. Is Calla a lesbian, bisexual, or did she merely react to the emotion of the moment? The film does not answer this question, but Rachel's reaction is to withdraw from the friendship for the time being.
Into the void steps Rachel's high-school classmate Nick Kazlik (James Olson), a fellow teacher who teaches at an inner city school in The Bronx who is in town to visit his parents for a couple weeks. Upon first seeing her in town, Nick had made a crude pass that Rachel rebuffed, but after the episode with Calla, she succumbs to his charms and has her first sexual experience. Mistaking lust for love, she begins to plan a future with Nick, who rejects her once he realizes she views their relationship as more than a casual and temporary affair. He rejects her softly by using a fake photo of a woman and a young child claiming that they are his wife and son back in New York City. She later discovers through his mother that he is not really married.
Believing that she is pregnant, Rachel plans to leave town and raise the child. With Calla's assistance, she finds another teaching job in Oregon, but before the summer ends, she learns that her symptoms actually are due to a benign cyst. She is bitterly disappointed. After undergoing surgery to have the cyst removed, she tells her mother, in the hospital, that she has decided to relocate, and that her mother may accompany her or not, as she wishes. Her mother reluctantly agrees to go, in a way that suggests she realizes her dependence on Rachel and perhaps even will take her less for granted from now on. Rachel sets out with hope for the future, having learned that she has choices, that she is able to give and receive sexual pleasure, that it is possible for her to take on life actively, rather than wait for it to find her.
The film is punctuated by brief flashbacks to Rachel's lonely childhood with a forbidding undertaker father and rather neglectful mother. Brief daydreaming sequences of the adult Rachel also appear, including those showing her imagining seizing a stolen moment with the school's possibly sexual-harassing principal; taking an underloved boy in her classroom home with her; and rocking the expected baby in a park while children play nearby.
Time observed, "Stewart Stern often gets too close to the novel, adopting where he should adapt. Rachel is shackled with prosy monologues that should have been given visual form. Despite its failings, Rachel, Rachel has several unassailable assets . . . It is in the transcendent strength of Joanne Woodward that the film achieves a classic stature. There is no gesture too minor for her to master. She peers out at the world with the washed-out eyes of a hunted animal. Her walk is a ladylike retreat, a sign of a losing battle with time and diets and fashion. Her drab voice quavers with a brittle strength that can command a student but break before a parent's will. By any reckoning, it is [her] best performance."
Variety called it an "offbeat film" that "moves too slowly" and added, "There is very little dialog - most of which is very good - but this asset makes a liability out of the predominantly visual nature of the development, which in time seems to become redundant, padded and tiring . . . Direction is awkward. Were Woodward not there film could have been a shambles."
TV Guide rated the film 3½ out of four stars, calling it "a small, understated, and very sensitive film" and adding, "It could have been a drab, weepy story, but Stern and Newman collaborated to make it an inspiring one that proves one is never too old to change one's life."
Warner Home Video released the film on Region 1 DVD on February 17, 2009.