Jonathan Demme assembles a pretentious and annoying wedding with all of the dramatic trimmings one could ever hope for with 2008’s intensely exasperating Rachel Getting Married. This is a motion picture that captures all of the mania and mixture of being at a really bad wedding, complete with clashing ethnic themes, annoying violin players, a rehabbing sister, high emotions, and perplexing social rituals. In many ways, Rachel Getting Married is brilliant. In fact, it is so brilliant that I have no desire to see these damn people ever again.
Demme’s naturalistic, quasi-documentary camera is set loose on the wedding of the titular Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). She is getting married to Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe from the band TV on the Radio), a pretty normal guy whose infinite patience is an example to us all. Rachel’s sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway), is coming to the wedding too. One problem: she’s in rehab. After being in and out of rehab for about ten years or so, Kym is finally in treatment that is apparently working.
We are witnesses to the proceedings, following Kym from her return to her home and her father (Bill Irwin). We attend a long-winded reception that includes one of the most awkward toasts put to film and we attend the wedding, of course. Kym also attempts connection with her mother (Debra Winger), her father’s first wife.
Demme’s style choices here are compelling, as we are treated to Rachel Getting Married as observers to the fray. Some scenes are intimate and we linger on the outskirts of the room at times only to leap haphazardly into the centre at other times. In many ways, I felt as though I were shadowing Kym through what quickly becomes an ordeal. The wedding is not particularly pleasant, nor is any portion of the motion picture. It is, instead, nauseatingly necessary to endure for both Kym’s sake and for ours.
Rachel Getting Married is a film about pain and about the failure to handle it. Kym is at the core of a family tragedy and has not been properly forgiven for it. She is also blamed for her addiction and her sister lacks an understanding of the mind of a junkie. This is made incredibly ironic by the notion of what Rachel is studying. Her inability to understand her sister is captivatingly juxtaposed by her father’s inability to do the same. Always rushing with a plate of food, he is a man doing his very best.
The wedding and the reception are two key sequences to the movie. Watch how Demme conducts the fray, narrowing in on certain characters for seconds only to flutter off and narrow in on another. The camerawork is tremendous. And the scenes drag, tenaciously, as we listen to speech after speech of characters we’ve never met and don’t care about. It’s all an awful lot like, well, a wedding.
The performances are tremendous as well, with Hathaway pouring herself into a role that is, in many ways, the least demanding of the picture. It is DeWitt’s Rachel who really made an impression on me, causing me great aggravation due to her intolerance and her incapacity to value. Later, she attempts redemption with an understated and beautiful social gesture when Kym needs it the most.
Rachel Getting Married really is a very good movie. Demme’s direction is elegant and natural. He thanks Robert Altman in the end credits for good reason, I’d say, as his handling of this ensemble is as ingenious and downright fascinating as the master. While I am not convinced that I will ever want to attend this ceremony again, I can honestly say that I’m glad I was invited.
PS: IMBD.com has this film listed as a “Romance.” I can assure you it is not.