Rachel Getting Married ****
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Jenny Lumet
Anne Hathaway as Kym
Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel
Bill Irwin as Paul
Debra Winger as Abby
Tunde Adebimpe as Sidney
Mather Zickel as Kieran
Anna Deavere Simth as Carol
Anisa George as Emma
Jerome LePage as Andrew
Rated R for language and brief sexuality.
It would be literally impossible to discuss "Rachel Getting Married" without mentioning last year's "Margot at the Wedding." Both films deal with a rather disjoined family getting together again for upcoming nuptials. Both films deal with some kind of past family crisis coming to light at a time that should be happy. Both films make strong use of the handheld camera and natural lighting to tell its story. But there is vast difference between the two movies-"Rachel Getting Married" is actually a tender story, beautifully acted and executed. "Margot at the Wedding" was a grim affair, and ended up being quite mean to its characters for no other reason than to be painfully awkward and socially isolated. I had a tender hatrid for Noah Baumbach's film last year, and it even made my list of the year's worst. And in that way, "Rachel Getting Married" is somewhat the second attempt at making a good film of the subject matter, and it succeeds in practically every way.
The film may refer to Rachel in the title, but the film is really about Kym, played by Anne Hathaway in a surefire Oscar nomination lock. At the start of the film Kym is getting out of rehab after several years of being a junkie. She has been given a weekend pass to go home for his sister Rachel's wedding, who is about to marry musician Sydney. Kym is picked up by her father Paul and his new wife Carol, and instantly inquires about the wearabouts of her mother Abby. The two sisters seem to hit it off well at first, but after Kym discovers that Rachel has chosen her close friend Emma to be the maid of honor and not her. And so we follow the family over the course of the weekend-through the rehearsal dinner, through several wedding prepartions, and finally through the ceremony, which goes off surprisingly without a hitch.
The film is not plot heavy, as you can probably tell. Everything that you need to know about the main storyline is in the title. Rachel is getting married, and than Rachel does get married. What is really special about the film is the way Jonathan Demme handles the material-giving the viewer the feeling that they are watching a wedding video, just peering a little bit closer in the lives of these people. During the rehearsal sequence, we sit through about six speeches full. While Kym's speech may have the most juice in moving the plot forward, its the other that are done by side characters who we don't really see again for an extended length of time. But these speeches help us to understand the characters more-small phrases ignite certain facial expressions in the audience, relationships are explored in the most subtle way. And what makes these scenes not dull for the viewer is the realism that Demme presents-at this point in the film the audience is engrossed to the point that its as if they are actually attending this wedding. That, and we know that Kym is about to make her own speech, and that does not disappoint.
This brings me to the Anne Hathaway preformance, as well as the acting from basically the entire cast. Hathaway is terrific as Kym, and this is easily the best work that she's ever done. There is so much subtly in her actions, and pain in her eyes. When an unseen character named Ethan is mentioned during one of the speeches, we can see her very pained reaction, unknowing exactly what is going on. But she hooks the viewer in, making them want to know, but knowing that its something tragic that perhaps we don't want to know about. Hathaway is matched by Rosemarie Dewitt, and their argument scenes together are filled with the tensions and the loving anger that sisters really have, all balanced perfectly by the lighter performance by Bill Irwin as their father-and if he is giving the light performance, than the other characters are just seeped in darkness.
And this is the primal difference between "Rachel Getting Married" and "Margot at the Wedding." Both films do have their dark characters and situations. There is so much pain and past history in these people, but my problem with "Margot" is that Baumbach seemed to not care about his characters. He created them just to make them ashamed of themselves and of each other. But there is that element of hope in every frame, every sentence, and every argument of "Rachel Getting Married." The love that this family has for each other, however hidden, is almost beautiful, and possible cliche moments like the entire family cutting the cake at the wedding are presented in a way that is sweet and effective.
This is the genius of the screenplay, taking those moments and transforming them into something special. I also liked the way the film handled the romance between Kym and Kieren, who was the best man. The two meet at an addicts meeting, and when they discover that they both are involved in the same wedding, quickly retreat to the basement to have sex. Aside from the two sitting next to each other during future scenes, this romance is not mentioned or even thought about until the very last scene. Jenny Lumet's screenplay avoids this rather contrived love story here, presenting their moment as a scene of mutual understanding. At this point, Kym needs that objective experience to escape her families scrutinizing, and she finds it in Kieren, to whom she has a common bond: their addiction.
And finally, Demme's direction is handled very well, and he handles the camera movements as if the viewer is attending an actual party, giving time to pan around the rooms to adjust the viewer to the setting. There is also no recorded music in the film, everything being diegetic as the band practices their music. This leads to a rather haunting score as the sound of violins and flutes accompany her journey into her bedroom for the first time in years. I really had quite a fondness for "Rachel Getting Married," and it makes it even better as it squashes the awful "Margot at the Wedding" by quite a bit. There are moments that may seem useless to some viewers, and endless as the party goes on and on. But its how the characters are used during these moments that never made it dull to me, and this is a rather beautiful and hopeful look at family coming together and fixing their unhappiness at an event that should be happy indeed.