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CLASSICS: Rachel Getting Married (2008) ****

March 15, 2008

 

written by: Jenny Lumet

produced by: Jonathan Demme, Neda Armian Marc E. Platt

directed by: Jonathan Demme

rated R (for language and brief sexuality)

114 min.

U.S. release date: October 3, 2008

DVD & Blu-ray release date: March 10, 2009

 

Watching “Rachel Getting Married” is to attend her wedding. You literally feel like a fly, buzzing from wall to wall as you take everything from the preparation to the post wedding cool down. Disregarding any formulaic conventions, here is an intoxicating drama that is truthful, painful, humorous and genuine.

Recently on leave from rehab to attend her sister’s wedding, self-absorbed narcissist Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns to her well-off Connecticut family for a few days. It’s hard enough for a recovering addict to return home, but thrust into the chaos of a weekend wedding ceremony, everything and everyone is especially heightened. At first, the sisters show genuine endearment for each another. While Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) does her best to accept Kym for who she is, it is obvious there is tension in their relationship. Their father Paul (Bill Irwin) does not know how to act around Kym other than to dote or walk on eggshells. It’s an awkward situation all around, especially for Paul’s wife, Carol (Anna Deveare Smith) who doesn’t seem to have a respected voice in the family despite being the rock for Paul over the years.

The girls’ relationship with their estranged mother (Debra Winger) is also an added stressor, portrayed as awkward, at best, throughout the film. As the camera walks us through each room of the house, we meet new friends and family that will take part in the wedding but we also can’t help wonder when the next emotional eruption will occur. Looming over all of the them like the elephant in the house, is the family’s past tragedy that occurred many years previously, for which Kym is responsible.

Without really knowing any other way and unable to deal with the spotlight on someone else, Kym adds tension to what would ideally be a time of celebration. Demme is careful not to portray Kym as the problem adult-child, or as a one-dimensional thorn in everyone’s side. She may not know what to do in such a critical moment in her life but we at least see her try. As we see her deal with her demons, she is also devastated that Rachel has chosen someone else as her maid of honor and tries to maintain her local rehab meetings over the weekend. Unfortunately, for everyone, she comes across as a narcissist, vomiting raw emotion hardly anyone can understand. Needless to say, this leaves Rachel an emotional wreck during what should be the most important day of her life.

 

 

 

Not since “The Godfather” have we seen such a realistic depiction of what people do and say at a wedding, not to mention how they act. Like that Coppola classic, the wedding itself takes place at the family’s house which becomes a character in and of itself. Several interesting supporting characters are introduced as either friends or family of the bride and groom. All come across as real people, far from the typical catty bridesmaids or frat brother groomsmen we so often see in rom-coms. These characters are inarguably genuine, especially Sidney (TV On The Radio frontman, Tunde Adebimpe), the gentle and talented groom who sings Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” as his wedding vow. Kieran (Mather Zinkel), is his best man, who has also been in rehab but is now clean. Ironically, Kym finds Kieran in the same local rehab meeting even before she finds out his “best man” status. Both men are seen as quite, patient support systems for the sisters of growing contention.

Many of these supporting cast members form the band that compose the soundtrack of the film which becomes yet another integral character. Demme gathers a community of ragtag musicians and artists (like Robyn Hitchcock and Fab 5 Freddy) and allows then to saunter throughout the house, as they rehearse for the wedding. They are left to interact and exist with the main characters just like anyone else in the film, in a rare and natural inclusion.

Without a doubt, Hathaway earns her Oscar nomination here, but the more challenging role went to DeWitt as Rachel. She has so much more to do. She’s the bride going through all the commotion of a wedding weekend while at the same time she is challenged by her feelings for  Kym. She wants Kym to feel involved, loved, but Kym doesn’t make it easy. We’ve seen addicts before but so seldom do we see a sibling struggle with how to be their for someone she loves without losing their mind. In the role of Rachel, DeWitt is more memorable and impressive.

There have been several complaints about the HD handheld camera that Demme employs for the rehearsal and wedding ceremony. Some have said it’s nauseating or like watching footage from an old home video. Some even say that the toasting sequence at the rehearsal dinner is excruciatingly long. They’re missing out. They don’t realize that Demme is actually benefiting the story and the characters by approaching these scenes in such a manner.  Demme’s wandering cameras expose raw and undiluted characters with an appropriate closeness. This liberates him to focus on moments of discomfort, like when we follow Kym in her determination to be in the limelight, as she forces her self-centered behavior into uncomfortable areas of confession and humiliation.

We have all heard the phrase “there’s one in every family”, referring to those relatives that are a challenge to be around or communicate with. Those family members may be going through a variety of emotions and/or dealing with difficult situations and often unknowingly drag everyone around them down. Screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of director, Sidney Lumet) must know families, for all we know she could even be drawing from her own. What she and director Jonathan Demme do here is expose just how those siblings, daughters, fathers and estranged mothers, deal or not deal with whatever familial sheen they inevitable wear. After all, the exterior surface eventually wears off, revealing what really lies beneath.

 

 

 

 

Keeping It Reel CLASSICS is a feature that showcases movies that are deemed as simply, classics.  Old or new, they somehow resonate and stand out in our cinematic memory. We invite you to discover them yourselves, again or for the first time. Here are some others….
 
  
The Dark Knight (2008)                          
Once (2007)                                                                          
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