I saw this film right after Thanksgiving, which probably greatly colored my viewing. Even a few weeks later I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind, even though I had a difficult time watching it and wasn’t sure at first how much I liked it. Coming out of the theater I was assured of a few things: that Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie Dewitt, and Bill Irwin all deserve awards for their brave, vulnerable, beautifully nuanced performances; that I felt emotionally worn out and exposed; and that the shaky-cam drove me crazy. I still feel like this is a triumph of content over form and that the choice to use a handheld camera detracts from the quality and distracts from the gripping drama between characters. Still, when the drama is so honest and engrossing, it’s easy to forgive. This is really one of the very best family dramas I’ve seen, and probably the best wedding movie.
It starts with Kym, the black sheep in her family, being released from rehab for the weekend to go home for her sister’s wedding. Her father and stepmother pick her up, and it’s immediately obvious that Kym is the kind of volatile personality who provokes strong reactions without even meaning to because she lacks a filter for her speech. She’s remarkably self-absorbed, but not without understanding of the effect she has on her family. It’s a very accurate portrayal of an addictive personality, and though she is sober when the films take place, it’s easy to see all of her triggers, neuroses, and regrets laid bare by Hathaway’s fearless performance. Her relationships with her sister, who is a stable, intelligent young woman struggling to move away from her own demons to start a new life, and her father, who desperately loves Kym and is deeply concerned about her well-being, are particularly complex. Very slowly, gifted screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sindey Lumet) lets you get a feel for the rift Kym has created in her family, and the tragic event that devastated them all. The scene where Hathaway recounts this event is riveting and wrenching, absolutely unforgettable.
That isn’t to say that Rachel Getting Married is entirely a downer, however. I was surprised by the amount of love and warmth that radiates from these characters, especially Rachel’s fiance Sidney (I’m sure the name is no coincidence). Tunde Adebimpe is not particularly memorable in the role, but his character functions more as a symbol of the hope and love that await the family, not just Rachel, if they can accept their tragedies and failings and move on. The wedding itself is a beautiful, multicultural celebration, the complete opposite of the materialistic bonanzas in films like Sex and the City or the upcoming Bride Wars (also, bafflingly, starring Hathaway). The party aspect of the wedding is still present, but its emphasis is on bringing family and friends together, healing old wounds, and starting afresh. I wanted to go. As trying as it was to experience this family’s pain for 2 hours, I felt as if I knew them intimately by the end, and I didn’t want to leave. That’s the mark of a truly great movie – it sticks with you and draws you back into its universe when you least expect it. In such a barren year for movies, Rachel Getting Married is a revelation, and a hugely triumphant comeback for Demme.