Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            By the end of Jonathan Demme’s film, you know Rachel, the put-upon and hard-working bride. You know Sidney, her groom, the passionate world musician. You know dad, the milquetoast doting one. You know his wife, a haggard supporter. You know mom, who smiles through her pain. And you know Kym, Rachel’s sister, straight from rehab, and eager to rip open some old wounds, but not so eager to poke at others.

            By the end of the film, you have been through some wrenching family discussions, some horrific unanswerable questions, and an all-night wedding reception full of joy, dancing, music, catharsis, and separation. You feel like you’ve stayed up all night dancing at a party. You’ve experienced the highs and lows of a party. You know the fun and the awkwardness of a party. And you know the melancholy of a party winding to an end.

            “Rachel Getting Married” is one of the best films of the year. It tells the story, mostly of Kym (Anne Hathaway), the recovering addict, as she enters the world of her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. Kym has lived a little more than someone her age should have, and hides a horrible family secret. She is hip and ironic, and barely holding together. Rachel and Kym’s family are mostly insufferable yuppies who argue over the specific shade of off-white that the tablecloths need to be. Dad (Bill Irwin) dotes on Rachel, but seems to have a stronger affection from Kym. If you ask your parents, they will say that they clearly have no favorites among their children, but if you have any siblings, it can feel like they play favorites, can’t it? Dad is married to a resolute woman named Carol (Anna Deavere Smith). The groom, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe from the band TV on the Radio), smiles a lot, and has a cadre of eccentric musician friends around him. Mom (Debra Winger) is present around the periphery.

            For the first half hour of “Rachel Getting Married,” you cling desperately to Kym, as she is the only thing remotely tolerable in this world. Everyone clucks and grins, and has those frustratingly superficial conversations that only rich white people seem to have in movies.

            But as the film grinds onward, you begin to realize just how much has been revealed about these people. We’re not in the midst of a cutsey wedding romcom, but an Altman-esque realist ensemble piece that has already reached deep into your heart to grab some of the more intense emotions. When the secrets are revealed, you’re in tears, and you also understand. There are confrontations, of course, but they are not cathartic melodramatic moments, and the filmmakers don’t give you the relief of cutting away immediately afterwards. These people have to live with the harsh words they said, and so do we, the audience. We live with them. We know them. We hate them or we love them, but we can feel what it’s like to be part of this unique-yet-familiar family.

            But there I go making it sound fluffy and cutesy again. Let me repeat the word “wrenching.” Let me again say there is nothing cutesy about “Rachel Getting Married.”

            I’m sorry to be so vague about the proceedings, but I really don’t want to give anything away. It’s also to talk about the effect this film had on me without talking in broad abstracts. Screenwriter Jenny Lumet and Demme have constructed a film that would have made Altman proud. Hathway, Winger, and DeWitt don’t just act, but embody their characters.

            See this film. Let it refresh you.

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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