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
Both the camera and the man behind it were obviously in love with the actress on screen, and, that actress, Joanne Woodward, was arguably never better than she was in "Rachel, Rachel," husband-Paul-Newman's first directing effort. The low-key story involves a woman who reaches the middle of her life and realizes that she has yet to start living. Trapped in a small apartment above a funeral parlor with her whining possessive mother, Rachel is a schoolteacher with daydreams of having a life and children of her own.
Rachel's emotions are written on Woodward's face in a way few actresses have ever conveyed feeling. Words are superfluous, because the actress's subtle shifts of expression reveal the woman's raw vulnerability and, eventually, her sexual and emotional awakening. A course in film acting could be taught with this film as the primer. Although Kate Harrington, James Olson, and Estelle Parsons provide able support, the film is Woodward's showcase, and Newman's sturdy direction does not detract from his star. The shifts between Rachel's present and her memories and dreams are seamless, clear, and illuminating rather than distracting.
The film requires patience, but that does not imply boring, but rather leisurely paced, much like life in a small town that lies off the main roads. Getting to know another person requires time, and Rachel is worth knowing. "Rachel, Rachel" is a not to be missed minor masterwork with a performance that will haunt and linger in memory indefinitely. Newman never surpassed his directing here, and few actresses have surpassed Woodward's achievement either.
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