Film review – Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Kym (Anne Hathaway)
Kym (Anne Hathaway)

Recovering drug addict Kym (Anne Hathaway) leaves rehab to spend the weekend at her family home for her sister’s wedding. The house is filled with artistic and musical friends and family and the mood is one of celebration. However Kym brings with her a series of misfortunes and past tragedies that still weigh heavily on her family. Anne Hathaway’s abilities as an actor were already evident after her performances in Brokeback Mountain and even The Devil Wears Prada but she is truly astonishing in Rachel Getting Married as Kym. It is almost inconceivable that she recently appeared in the dire Bride Wars, as Rachel Getting Married with all its sincerity, moving performances and likeable characters is the complete antithesis of that film.

Rachel Getting Married explores the dynamics of a family that has to deal with a difficult family member that they nevertheless love. However, Kym is the key to what makes the film so great. She has many unpleasant and annoying character traits but she is also very funny and genuinely affectionate. She is self-centred, insulting and always blaming everybody but herself but she never comes across as monstrous or cruel. Her scenes with her sister Rachel are wonderful and both Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt (Midge Daniels from Mad Man) as Rachel really make us believe that these two women are sisters. The incredible love that they have for each other is of course juxtaposed by the anger, jealousy and resentment that they also hold.

Kym and Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt)
Kym and Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt)

Director Jonathan Demme made two of the most significant Hollywood films in the early 1990s, The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia but recently he has been predominantly making documentaries. The documentary sensibility is a strong influence on Rachel Getting Married as it is all shot on handheld cameras, the actors improvise around a loose script by first time writer Jenny Lumet (Sidney Lumet’s daughter), all the music is performed in the film by actual musicians and the cast are a mix of experienced actors and friends of Demme’s. Demme has stated that with Rachel Getting Married he wanted to create “the most beautiful home movie ever made” and he has succeeded.

Rachel Getting Married triumphs almost despite itself. The various pre-wedding gatherings and the actual wedding itself are a multicultural blend of performances, musical tributes and poetic speeches. At first it is difficult to tell if the film is being a little bit pretentious with its depiction of hip alternative wedding rituals or whether it is expecting the audience to laugh at the characters’ middleclass ethno-kitsch indulgences. In the ends it turns out to be neither. It is simply what it is – a celebration appropriate and meaningful to the people involved. As part of Demme’s “beautiful home movie” technique many scenes simply capture the moment of people dancing, performing and making heartfelt statements. The sincerity is so genuine that any cynicism soon evaporates and instead you are left feeling privileged at being privy to the dynamics of this family. Rachel Getting Married is an extraordinary achievement.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. What a raw and at times, very confronting film. It had me so uncomfortable in a few early scenes to the point where I almost felt too voyeuristic for watching it.

    This movie pulls no punches in its straight forward and direct approach. It was an uncomfortable journey, but a rewarding one.

  2. That’s a great description of the emotional impact that this film generates. It is tough going at times but completely worth it.

    I was actually speaking to another critic yesterday who made the very good point that many critics (myself included) are so busy commending Hathaway that they forget to mention how amazing the rest of the cast are. I have to agree so for the record, this is a true ensemble film and everybody in it is brilliant – Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel, Bill Irwin as the girls’ father, Debra Winger as their mother, Tunde Adebimpe as Rachel’s fiancee, Mather Zickel as the best man…the list goes on.

  3. The messiness that goes with genuinely flawed and complex people is what makes the film ring so true and cut so deep. Nice Review, check out mine when you can!

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