Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married


Reviewed by: Chris

People who enjoy intellectual and emotionally stimulating films might not immediately be drawn to a title like Rachel Getting Married. But the misleadingly lightweight description belies a depth and fireball intensity that should only be avoided by fans of superficial rom-com. The unassuming title is typical of this under-sold, unpretentious, and unashamedly honest piece of film-making.

Anne Hathaway (Devil Wears Prada) plays Kym. She returns to the family home for the wedding of her sister Rachel. Kym’s spent 10 years in rehab and injects an edgy, biting presence into the atmosphere of harmony and joy. It is a film that combines caustic emotional intensity with genuine respect for American inventiveness where beautiful weddings are concerned. Rachel Getting Married makes us ask how far we would go in extending understanding to that sibling who threatens our happiness.

Copy picture

Determined to break formulas, director Jonathan Demme takes a freewheeling approach and provides documentary-like substance to this unusual family drama. “We never rehearsed before filming, and we rarely planned a shot in advance,” says Demme. Techniques behind character creation in this excellent example of American arthouse almost echo the improvisational methods of British filmmaker Mike Leigh. Explains Demme, “ I told the actors that they had to take us through a complete wedding, and incidentally, they had to stage it themselves.”

The result is cohesiveness between the players and striking realism. At one point, when Hathaway was performing a high-voltage scene, she had complained to the assistant director that musicians outside were distracting her. Demme tells her to let her character do something about it. So, in the film, she erupts at them, at the same time trying to explain and counter their incomprehension.

It’s a powerhouse performance from Hathaway. Like a shipwrecked Amy Winehouse at a Queen’s garden party. She is frequently free of make-up, and bereft of any port in her storm. Irritating as she is, we have to sympathise with this girl whom everyone is tactfully desperate not to acknowledge. Prepare now for a new Hathaway who looks as if she has 20 years' Broadway and London West End under her belt. There are elements of the articulate, intelligent unstoppability of Juno, but also the internalised torment of Girl, Interrupted. We are pulled between wanting an all-round reconciliation before the wedding day, and feeling thankful if we don’t have a brother/sister/friend like that.

These two families are comfortably well-off, liberal, and educated. Rachel is studying for her Ph.D (intelligent, independent women can still marry) and he is a perfect husband-to-be and black. If they weren’t both stereotypically good looking, it would almost be a PC check-box too many. But their ideals are stretched when along comes Kym. She needs unconditional love like a policeman with bullet-ridden bodies needs to show they shot first. Kym is in the wrong. Always has been. As much as she intensely wants to show her love for them, she can’t open her mouth without bringing pain and hurt.

The two girls bond across a gulf that keeps widening. A dysfunctional sisterly bonding, it recalls the masterly French film I’ve Loved You so Long. But when we compare Rachel Getting Married with the established arthouse stable we also see its limitations. Shot in high-definition video, the production values are sometimes shoddy. It intentionally has the look of a very good home movie. Occasionally I have to strain to pick up critical lines of dialogue. Yet it works. We feel we have been dragged through Hell and Heaven to find a way for these people to communicate. We feel like we’re there with them. The joy of the wedding plans is as realistic as the pain of Kym’s internalised stress and suffering. She can only truly relax at the rehab meetings. The families can only relax when she’s away, losing themselves in the beautiful wedding plans as they take on a Disney-like perfection.

A diegetic soundtrack featuring jazz players, real samba dancers, and an excellent rock band feels like part of the family. (Many are friends of the director and crew.) But although the journey is immensely interesting, there is little in the way of an overarching point beyond engaging melodrama. Symbolism is laid on with a trowel compared to similar European offerings. Constant concerns over the rain before the wedding, and Kym behind the wheel as she drives a disastrous middle path, leading nowhere. But given that most US movies will not take a gamble on anything so adventurous, Rachel Getting Married still wants to boldly explore unknown territory and should be praised for it. It was well worth the ticket price. And the taxi fare across town. And it was well worth the effort to see this movie which is being unfairly ignored by the multiplexes.

Released at that time of year just before the Oscars when glitter can predominate over substance, this film, and Hathaway’s grand entrance as a leading actress, is not to be ignored.

Reviewed on: 26 Jan 2009
Share this with others on...
A young woman's wedding arrangements are disrupted by the arrival of her demanding, obnoxious, and painfully vulnerable sister.
Amazon link

Director: Jonathan Demme

Writer: Jenny Lumet

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mather Zickel, Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith, Anisa George, Tunde Adebimpe, Debra Winger, Jerome LePage, Beau Sia, Dorian Missick

Year: 2008

Runtime: 114 minutes

Country: US


London 2008

Search database: