REVIEW: Rachel Getting Married [2008]

“Through thick and thin”

Anne Hathaway was all the buzz this year at the Toronto Film Festival. I will admit to being skeptical, never really seeing her as much more than a pretty face. People would say how brave and fearless she was in Havoc and Brokeback Mountain, but does taking your clothes off constitute a good actress? If you ask Marisa Tomei right now, she may say yes, but for me, I need some emotively wrought performances to put on my stamp of approval. However, it was not just Hathaway that gave me doubts here; her director is Jonathan Demme. Besides Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, I’ve never quite been a huge fan of his either. With all that said, Rachel Getting Married seems to have caught all involved at the Earth’s perfect rotational position, because it is absolutely wonderful. Hathaway and company give powerful turns in an emotionally devastating film; wearing its realism on its sleeve at all times with help from Demme’s handheld style. A mix of Pieces of April infused with the few good parts of Margot at the Wedding—this film shows the heartbreak of tragedy even on the cusp of a joyous occasion. It puts its characters in confrontational positions to allow the repressed feelings surface and flow out, as Hathaway’s Kym must make amends with those around her, all while trying to find a way towards self-forgiveness.

The film commences a few days before Rachel’s wedding. She is hard at work getting it all ready with help from her father, stepmother, and friends, eagerly awaiting the return of her sister Kym from a nine-month stint in rehab. Kym is sober for the first time in a long time, coping with her re-assimilation into society by having to deal with a large group of people she is close to (family) and a stranger to (the groom’s family) all of which know her troubles. She goes straight from a controlled environment to a highly volatile and stressful world that she isn’t sure she can work in. Needing both the attention and the privacy to deal with what is going on in her head, she makes outbursts and awkward situations for herself and those around her, taking the spotlight away from Rachel who desperately needs it after a life playing second fiddle to her sister’s troubles. They are siblings that love each other, but they can’t put their own personal issues aside to relate fully to the other’s problems. Rachel despises Kym for what she did as a 17 year-old, in effect destroying their family, and also for coming back right at the moment when she finally had all eyes on her. It’s a misplaced jealousy towards Kym’s explosive lifestyle that, while overturning their world, made her into the center of attention, being worried about for the bad while she Rachel was pushed to the background for doing nothing but good.

Rachel Getting Married is a slice of life that digs into the psyche of a family torn apart and brought back together without time for reconciliation. The wedding is in full swing and there is no time to talk. So, instead, we see the strong pinpoints of devastation rearing their heads at all the wrong times. The sisters are emotionally vulnerable and when things don’t go their way, don’t think before letting those emotions out. Forgiveness takes time, but the high stress involved in the wedding doesn’t allow for it; therefore screaming, hitting, and crying abound as feelings no longer can be kept in check with everyone’s guard down from the toll of long days and nights planning, trying to get the ceremony as perfect as can be. But maybe that is exactly what is needed in a situation such as this. With all inhibitions gone, the truth can come out and hopefully reconcile itself even if its introduction comes from exploding bombs. With no time to candy-coat, Kym sees that her blanket apology at the rehearsal dinner just won’t be good enough. These things must be done from the heart; rehab doesn’t work if you continue to lie, not just to others, but also to yourself.

While Demme may show it all with a genius up-close and personal style, one must credit Jenny Lumet for a fantastic script. We are shown all the mundane and private events culminating into the wedding from the rehearsal dinner filled with an eclectic group of people to the quaint moments such as a dishwasher loading competition between the groom and father of the bride to release of energy and emotion on the dance floor during the reception. This is such a personal film that it almost seems too much at times because of the sheer realism to it all. Anne Hathaway, as Kym, is just superb, proving her worth in Hollywood; she is a revelation. The angst and spoiled, attention-grabbing ego come across great, but it’s the little things that truly shine, the moments when she makes amends with the three people she has been avoiding for too long, namely Rachel, her father, and her mother. When she finally relays what happened, to both drive her deeper into addiction and break her family apart, at a therapy session, you believe every word and every tear. That monologue itself, along with her distant stares and revelations of her own selfishness as the film continues, shows how fearless this performance is. Devastatingly real and heartbreakingly effective, Hathaway deserves all the acclaim.

But it is not just a showcase for this ex-Disneyfied actress; no the supporting cast is just as good. The musically inclined group of people are wonderfully fleshed out, whether it be the groom, (TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe’s Sidney), and his family, or Rachel and Kym’s father, (Bill Irwin’s Paul), and his friends, there is music playing and being sung at all times. Adebimpe’s singing of Neil Young at the altar ends a sequence that proves to be the best exchange of wedding vows ever, really powerful and heartfelt stuff. As far as an emotional bundle of nerves, Irwin is mind-blowingly good. Here is a father giving his daughter away, joining forces with a new family, discovering he will be a grandfather, and trying to shield Kym through it all so she doesn’t think they don’t want her there. He is juggling everyone else’s emotions that when his own come to the surface, he becomes a completely beaten man, all semblance of the collected façade gone. And then there is Mather Zickel, a supposed friend of “The State” comedy crew if his filmography is to be believed, as the best man and rock to Kym’s mess of nerves going through group therapy for the first time … a very strong performance as well.

In the end, though, it is all about the three women—mother and daughters—that hold this piece together. I’ve already sung Hathaway’s praises, but mention needs to be made for Rachel’s Rosemarie DeWitt and their mother’s Debra Winger. Much like Kym hasn’t forgiven herself (and is her line saying she hopes there is no God if that God would ever forgive her for what she did not the most amazing sentiment, no matter how uncompromising a viewpoint it is?) Winger holds some definite regret and responsibility as well. Her actions at the wedding help show what real family means; it is not always about whom you came from. And as for DeWitt, she is just beautiful at all turns, inside and out. She portrays throughout how her sister’s life has affected her, how the lives and tragedies don’t only destroy the one doing, but also those being done to. This is as much a tale of Kym’s reconciliation as Rachel finally breaking free to become her own woman, outside of the self-imposed shadow she made of her sister. This wedding is truly about beginnings, not for the new union only, but also the family that has been slowly tearing itself apart from the inside.

Rachel Getting Married 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★

[1] Anne Hathaway as Kym. Photo taken by Bob Vergara, 2007, Property of Sony Pictures Classics, All Rights Reserved.
[2] Left to Right: Mather Zickel as Kieran, Anne Hathaway as Kym, Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel, Tunde Adebimpe as Sidney. Photo taken by Bob Vergara, 2007, Property of Sony Pictures Classics, All Rights Reserved.


2 Thoughts to “REVIEW: Rachel Getting Married [2008]”

  1. […] Rachel Getting Married, review: Was there an accidental family murder caused by drug abuse in my family? No. But that doesn’t […]

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