Kym (Ann Hathaway) seems a bit on edge as she leaves rehab for a weekend trip back home, to participate in her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. As soon as she gets in Dad's (Bill Irwin) car, we get a sense of her deep rooted hostility, anger and guilt. Her step-mom (Anna Deveare Smith) tries to offer encouragement, but Kym remains skeptical. As soon as they reach the large family house, nestled in an idyllic glen, the chaos of the preparations for the wedding soon overwhelm Kym and she runs to an AA meeting. There, she meets Kieran (Mather Zickel), an interesting guy who also has an addiction. When Kym returns home, she learns Kieran is the groom's (Tundee Adebimpe) best man and they quickly 'bond'. Both Kym and Rachel are eager for their semi-reclusive mom (Debra Winger) to make an appearance and are happy she and her husband show up for the rehearsal dinner. Throughout the festivities, Kym becomes more and more angry, depressed, happy and bitter about her life, forcing the family to work through these issues in a time already packed with other pressures, requirements and headaches.
Directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Jenny Lumet (director Sidney's daughter), "Rachel Getting Married" is a film filled with great performances helping to create real characters and it really helps to give a full picture of this entire family. But when I initially left the theater, I really disliked the experience. It was like sitting through a bad wedding. A very long, bad wedding.
But the more I thought about "Rachel", the more I came to understand the film and appreciate the very fact that if Demme, Lumet and their cast were able to make me feel this way, the film is, in fact, excellent.
From the moment Anne Hathaway first appears on screen as Kym, the black sheep of the family, you realize the actress is going for something different, something she has never attempted before. Long gone are "The Princess Diaries"; Kym is a drug addict and currently housed in a rehab clinic. She is getting a weekend pass to attend the wedding of her sister, Rachel, and seems both delighted to leave the facility, but also very scared to be returning home. With short, jagged black hair, punker clothes and thick red lips, Kym is a rebel and will probably always be a little defiant to everyone and anyone she crosses paths with.
As soon as she gets in the car with her dad and step-mom, her dad tries valiantly to avoid talking about rehab and concentrating only on his older daughter's wedding. But this also seems to annoy Kym; haven't they always avoided the subject before? Haven't they always avoided talking about the issues before? Isn't that part of the problem? Part of the reason Kym is dealing with all of these problems.
As Hathaway pulls apart the layers of her character, revealing the problems Kym has suffered throughout her life, we begin to see how complicated this person really is. More importantly, we begin to forget we are watching Anne Hathaway. When Kym arrives at the family home, the chaos engulfing the house quickly becomes too much for her. She finds her sister and her best friend and quickly gets into a squabble with the best friend. And then gets in a fight with her sister. And then has to flee, to find a place that isn't so chaotic, so threatening to her sobriety. Since she has to go to a meeting anyway, she flees to that. Barely making the meeting, she finds solace there and meets Kieran.
When she returns home, she realizes Kieran is the Best Man and they quickly decide to satisfy each others needs.
As the weekend continues, Kym vacillates between happiness, normalcy and the brink so many times, we begin to wonder if she should be out of rehab. When her big secret is revealed, it provides a real emotional wallop and gives us an idea of the extent of the problem.
Debra Winger plays Abby, Kym and Rachel's semi-estranged mom. When Abby finally joins the festivities, for the rehearsal dinner, she walks forward to hug her daughters, but the expression on her face indicates she feels she is kind of obligated to do this and doesn't necessarily want to or she feels uncomfortable hugging her daughters. Throughout the story, we get a picture of the complicated relationship between Abby and her daughters.
As soon as Kym gets in the car with her dad and step-mom, step-mom (Anna Deveare Smith) gives her an update about when she can expect mom. But this doesn't happen and both Kym and Rachel are anxious for their mom to be present, to participate in the events, to be a part of their lives. When she finally does show up, many different issues seem to rise and rear their ugly heads.
It has been a long time since we have seen Winger in a role that she can really sink her teeth into and this is a welcome aspect of the film. Winger is a great actress and her absence has been sorely missed. Now, as Abby, she brings a complicated character to life. More importantly, her character helps to make Kym's character all the more real and believable, because their relationship and interactions are so real and interesting.
As Kym tries to deal with all of her conflicting emotions, she goes to her mom's house, to have a conversation, which quickly leads to a fight. Things escalate out of control, and Kym runs off, only to get into more trouble. This is a real turning point and she seems to accept she has loving people in her family, she just has to love them back.
Bill Irwin, Rosemarie Dewitt, Anna Deveare Smith and Tundee Adebimpe round out the family members and they are all good. More importantly, they are the type of cast only a handful of talented directors could assemble and make work. Jonathan Demme is such a director. He has chosen a group of actors not known for their proficiency in creating believable, dramatic characters and woven them together to create an interesting, believable ensemble cast. You quickly forget you are watching a movie and feel as though you are watching a wedding video.
I know a lot of people who dislike watching films with a lot of handheld camera work. If you feel the same way, "Rachel Getting Married" might be a difficult experience for you to sit through. The entire film is shot with a handheld camera. Initially, this was a bit unsettling. As soon as the film starts, and you see this, you quickly become aware that this will go on through the entire course of the film. When this realization struck, I got used to it. In a way, it helps to further give the impression of watching a wedding video, capturing all of the moments, both great and awkward.
Demme also uses an editing style serving to enhance the "home video" feel of the film. Every edit is abrupt and quick, giving us the impression the camera was turned on to capture a new moment, giving us the feeling we are watching the raw videotape recording the event.
"Rachel Getting Married" is not an easy film to watch. As the camera roams across the rooms of the house, capturing all of the chaos, roaming over the faces of various guests at the rehearsal dinner, capturing the entire speech they make to the happy couple, you begin to feel like you are an active participant in this long, long celebration. The rehearsal dinner seems particularly claustrophobic, long and painful. As the dinner progresses, the camera capturing each of the speeches in painful detail, we get a sense of the small room this growing party is in, late arrivals shoe horning themselves in around an already crowded table. We get a sense of the amount of alcohol consumed as the speeches become more and more overly emotional. Some people are enjoying the dinner, but many more are in the same pain we are in. Honestly, this fifteen minute scene seemed like it lasted the length of a real rehearsal dinner. The actual wedding is almost as excruciating. After the ceremony, a seemingly endless parade of different types of musicians and dancers parade through the festivities, further enhancing the chaos. But these moments only help to enhance the authenticity of the events we are watching portrayed. Even the endless parade of very different musicians fits with Rachel and Sidney's characters; they are trying to create a wedding that fits with their style and this means a lot of different influences, styles and people. And they generally seem to enjoy all of the activities. And they seem to be the only people who understand the significance of everything planned.
"Rachel Getting Married" is Jonathan Demme's best film in many years and this says a lot given the previous accomplishments of this director.