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Rachel Getting Married

(2008)

Directed by

Jonathan Demme

 Rachel Getting Married Poster

Review by Todd Plucknett

 

Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme’s new film Rachel Getting Married is a brilliant look into the lives of some completely realistic characters that is nothing short of riveting. It is at times very tough to watch, and it is a challenging experience for the viewers. It is a fantastic picture that ranks with the year’s best films.

The story revolves around a wedding, in which Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is marrying Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). That is the least interesting part of the film though; it’s only the background. The real story focuses on Kym (Anne Hathaway), a troubled woman who has been given temporary leave from rehab to attend the wedding of her sister. She has been on every kind of drug since her childhood, but she has been clean for nine months. The main reason for her self-detriment is a fatal mistake that took place in her childhood that everyone blames her for, though they never directly admit it.

Kym shows up at the wedding, and she almost instantly initiates problems. She is getting frustrated at her father (Bill Irwin), who follows her around everywhere, keeping an eye on her. She finds out that Rachel���s friend Emma (Anisa George) has been chosen to be the maid of honor, due to the unreliability and uncertainty of Kym. She also wants to see her separated mother (Debra Winger), which ends up turning into a nightmare. The way these characters interact and the way they talk to each other makes you feel as if you know them. Demme shoots the film in a way that makes it seem like a documentary. The audience feels as if they have just been dropped into the lives of these people, and he captures some moments of unflattering grief and sorrow, all the while seeming completely authentic. These characters rip into each other and reveal details about past guilt and blame that leaves the audience completely spellbound. All the stories come to a front and unravel in a way that will leave the audience satisfied and somewhat unnerved. This is all thanks to the fantastic first time writer Jenny Lumet (daughter of the legend Sidney). Her screenplay is touched with so much honesty that it becomes a slice of life and a fascinating character study. It could have easily turned into just another Lifetime movie, but there is so much more here, so much depth to every character.

One of the finest qualities about the film is the superb acting by everyone. Anne Hathaway easily gives the best performance of her career, one the Academy may finally embrace. She completely lives as Kym, never for a moment seeming artificial or forced. I was largely reminded of Maggie Gyllenhaal in Sherrybaby while I was watching Hathaway. Both are equally impressive performances, ranking among the best leading female roles of the decade. Kym is such a challenging and multi-layered character, and Hathaway knocks it out of the park. The other standout in the film is the flawless Rosemarie DeWitt. I previously loved her work in the unfairly short-lived TV series Standoff, and she reestablishes that love I had for her work here. She handles the tough role of Rachel with such subtlety and tranquility, almost in a Catherine Keener type of way. You can totally feel the repressed anger that Rachel has and the utter fear of what her unpredictable sister is going to do next. She is simply marvelous in this film. Veteran actress Debra Winger is also superb in her small role as the mother. Right when she arrives on screen, the film takes off and rises to another level. She will certainly garner buzz around awards season as well. The father Bill Irwin is very good as the genuinely sweet father trying to hold everything together. Tunde Adebimpe has a lovable role as Rachel’s fiancée, and he nails his part.

The cast works together in an astounding fashion, forming an ensemble piece that Robert Altman would have been proud of. There has not been a better ensemble cast to be assembled this year. This is mostly evident in the brilliant chemistry between Hathaway and DeWitt. The tension between them is real. Rachel is hurting inside and basically jealous of the fact that even though it is her day, Kym is still getting the bulk of the attention. That is not really what Kym is looking for though. She wants to be rehabilitated and have her family actually trust the fact that she is serious about taking that step. She is also repressing the guilt and unspoken blame of the fatal accident of her childhood. She just doesn’t get the fact that a wedding is totally not the appropriate time to be doing this. There is one scene in particular during the rehearsal dinner where she gets up to say a few words about the couple. What comes out of her mouth will only make the audience cringe and just hope that she can pull it together in the end. She focuses the toast on herself and on her problems. She wasn’t just hoarding attention, though. She was trying to be genuine and probably prove a point, but is turned out to be just a downer for the party, something that she apparently had gotten pretty good at creating (she also spoiled a completely exhilarating dish-washing contest between her father and Sidney). She also was finally coming to grips with her past mistakes, which she claims that she can live with but doesn’t want to be forgiven for. She also had some unanswered questions that had been tearing her apart, particularly about her mother. This leads to one of the best scenes in the film: the eventual confrontation between them.

The greatest scene in the film (and the one that will likely be the “Oscar scene” for Hathaway and possibly DeWitt) is a scene of similar confrontation between Kym and Rachel. Rachel had just found out about an offending truth, and the two sit down with Sidney, their father, and his new wife to discuss it. It is the most wrenching and powerful part of the film, and the one that will likely stick with the audience. However, the film ends with a fair amount of hope. The wedding scenes are cheerful and extended, which brings the mood back to room temperature. The shifting of genre and atmosphere in the film is one of the most remarkable qualities. There is some brilliant humor, and there are a fair amount of tenderness and angst. The background music largely contributes to this phenomenon.

In Rachel Getting Married, all the characters have flaws. This only makes them more interesting, mainly because they are flaws that the audience can identify to. It makes for one of the most interesting achievements in the career of the brilliant Jonathan Demme. It is unlike anything he has done recently. His film that most closely relates to this one would be Melvin and Howard. Both films are characters studies that are grippingly realistic and honest. The characters are real and the drama is undeniable. Everything about this picture just seemed to be done with such precision. It is a real accomplishment.

Rating:

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