Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married
Rating: R (Language and brief sexuality)
Length: 113 minutes
Release Date: Oct 3, 2008
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Genre: Drama, Romance
Stars: 4 out of 5
Weddings are supposed to be happy and joyous occasions. Yet, filmmakers prefer to focus on interpersonal conflicts festering within families, which invariably find an outlet during such joyous and emotional occasions. Surprisingly, such a film invariably tends to enhance our faith in the power of familial bonding to overcome all odds. Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" gives us a peek into an outwardly happy family that is completely dysfunctional from within. From such a gloomy premise, the movie leads us through a chaotic, humorous, and thought-provoking journey to an ending that we all can easily identify with.
The movie begins with Kym Buchman (Anne Hathaway), a recovering alcoholic and substance abuser, coming out of court-ordered rehab for her sister's wedding. The director relies on comic interludes with a sprinkling of black humor to introduce the movie's protagonist as a sarcastic and cynical individual with an acid tongue. However, we cannot help instinctively understand that Kym's tough exterior is merely a façade concealing a vulnerable, sensitive, and desperately needy young woman.
While her family members are predictably happy at her return, they also show signs of being apprehensive about Kym's erratic behavior. This only serves to make Kym feel even more defensive and nervous when interacting with her family members. The happiness surrounding Kym's return disappears quickly, and she continues to pretend that she is totally unconcerned about what her family members think about her. Rachel feels that Kym's rehab is a manipulative attempt to gather more attention and sympathy.
Understandably, Rachel is less than amused at being forced to yield to her errant younger sibling yet again. Having been forced to play a secondary role to her younger sister despite being a model daughter herself, Rachel's outburst destroys the illusion that all members are part of a happy and content family.
Festering conflicts, petty ego issues, and deep fault lines in the family are exposed as skeletons come tumbling out of the closet. Kym fiercely brushes aside her father and stepmother's concerns and misinterprets their fears as lack of faith in her desire to overcome her addiction. She refuses to understand Rachel's point of view, and the happy occasion is totally eclipsed by spiteful remarks, snide comments, and hurtful taunts being thrown at each other.
Anne Hathaway is a revelation as a self-centered addict struggling to overcome the guilt that her addiction caused her younger brother's death.
Demme cleverly relies on humorous interludes about Rachel's groom, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), his family, and their eccentric friends to prevent the movie from becoming a monotonous tearjerker.
Many scenes in the movie seem to be shot by a hand-held home-movie camera. This makes audience members feel like they are guests present at the dining table during the numerous sentimental and over-the-top wedding speeches. It also gives them a voyeuristic feel during the melodramatic arguments between Kym and her family members.
Screenwriter Jenny Lumet has done a good job of not creating one-dimensional characters. Each character in the movie has certain flaws and a few redeeming qualities. This helps us understand their fears, insecurities, and emotional wounds. The family's troubles peak when Kym, instead of accepting her fault in her younger brother's death, blames her mother (Debra Winger) for not stopping her from driving when she was on a high. The confrontation ends in a sad physical altercation between the mother and daughter.
Kym crashes her car into a boulder, and the family spends a tense night worrying about her. In a beautifully shot scene, Rachel breaks down upon seeing Kym's bruised face and disheveled appearance when she returns home. In a stunning turnaround, Rachel caringly bathes Kym and asks her to be her maid of honor. Rachel's decision to forgive Kym seems difficult to believe until we realize that this is exactly how conflicts are settled in real-life families.
The movie bears a strong resemblance to Thomas Vinterberg's "The Celebration." However, the movie is not as cynical or satirical as the 1998 release. Rather, Demme lets the characters redeem themselves and uses the wedding as a backdrop to help the family members experience happiness despite past ordeals. The movie, rather wisely, does not seek a fairytale ending. Kym's conflict with her mother remains unresolved, but the family carries on, and everybody ends up having a relatively happy time at the wedding.
The wonderfully composed background score accurately reflects the mood of the characters throughout the movie. The movie ends with lots of smiles and laughter as Rachel gets married to Sidney in a glitzy and colorful Indian-style wedding. A realistic plot, sensible characterization, good direction, and superb performances by Hathaway and Winger make this movie a truly enjoyable experience.