Rachel Getting Married

in Drama, Not-A-Dick Flicks

Not-A-Dick Flick Pick

  • Stars: Anne Hathaway
  • Director: Jonathan Demme
  • Writer: Jenny Lumet

The plot could be that of a farce or romantic comedy:  a drug addict with a knack for destruction is released temporarily from rehab to take part in her sister’s wedding extravaganza.  Jenny Lumet, in her first produced screenplay, chooses instead to investigate the deeper truths beneath family relationships with a poignant realism that may strike too close to home for many.

Kym (Anne Hathaway) is dead serious about her rehab, at least.  There’s an implication that she mowed someone down with her car, too, but coming from a fellow rehabber, that may be a gross misstatement.  In any case, Kym’s nervous about her visit home for the wedding of beloved sis Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt).  This is no do-it-yourself backyard wedding, mind you.  “Home” is a sprawling manor in the lush affluence of Connecticut, and a recovering junkie sticks out like an egregious, throbbing, mangled sore thumb.

Dad (Bill Irwin) is in parental overdrive, convinced that hyper-vigilance on his part can keep his daughter from imminent relapse.  Rachel is, well, getting married and understandably protective of the most important day of her life.  Mom (Debra Winger) is noticeably absent from the proceedings, and stepmom (Anna Deavere Smith) is the calm, rational glue keeping everything from splitting apart at the seams.  Oh, and three hundred close family friends are pouring in for the weekend.

Stuff that many explosive elements into a bottle and shake it, and it will without a doubt explode.  There’s a fracas over the “maid of honor” honor, a sweaty fling in the basement, a car accident, a black eye, and a rambling, awkward, endless toast that makes you want to hit “stop” just to save everyone some embarrassment.  But these disasters are merely symptoms, external layers that get ripped away one by one until Kym and her loved ones are left shivering and naked before us, their most grievous wounds and transgressions laid open.

If you still have any doubts after “Brokeback Mountain” as to Anne Hathaway’s potency as an actor, let her put them to rest with this movie.  Kym defies characterization, slipping between innumerable shades of fierce, needy, loving, self-serving, determined, vulnerable;  a far-flung spectrum of emotions that, in truth, we all visit daily.  You’re never quite sure whether to trust what she’s giving you, yet her earnest desire to right herself with the world makes you root for her all the same.  For an eminently likable actor to make you dislike her takes a certain amount of skill.  The Academy got one right in nominating Hathaway for Best Actress.

The film’s structure, even its title, aptly reflects Kym’s state of mind.  Ostensibly it’s Rachel’s big day, but really, it’s all about Kym.  You might think that makes for a whiny protagonist at the head of a self-indulgent story.  But Hathaway carries the movie ably, backed by a strong supporting cast, and when you discover the unspeakable event that crushed Kym, that fractured her family, your heart breaks for all of them.  To writer Lumet’s credit, too, the problems started long before anything Kym may have done.  As in life, there is no one cause, and no single person is to blame.

Though Lumet says her script was fairly straightforward, Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme strays from the traditional clear-cut narrative.  Demme shoots with a documentary feel, as though he patchworked the thing together from bits of iPhone footage snagged by party guests.  Scenes often stretch on for several minutes – eons in screen time – with little dialogue or even plot-driving action.

And true to a musician’s wedding (Dad is a music industry bigwig; the groom is a record producer, played by Tunde Adebimpe of the band TV on the Radio), music occupies a huge chunk of time in the film.  Entire scenes center on an ensemble performance or a spontaneous tune.  Rather than underscoring emotional highpoints and steering audience reaction with a soundtrack composed after the fact, Demme populated the cast with actual musicians who played and improvised constantly during filming.  Anyone who has ever been swept up in a social gathering of musicians will recognize the authenticity, and this organic presence of music enhances the film’s real-time ambience.

Such loose direction runs completely contrary to the narrative filmmaker’s commandment that every word and action must move the plot forward.  Demme’s style may not be palatable to those more accustomed to an “A leads to B leads to C” formula.  It’s an unusual technique but an effective one, breaking the wall between audience and film to draw you into the celebration and accompanying trauma of a real family.

Obligatory rundown of the superficial DickFlicks stats:  Not-A-Dick Flick – check.  Strong Female Lead – check, and headlining the film solo to boot.  Token Male – yup, in the most sinfully delicious cliché imaginable.  And a little side note from a multiethnic movie lover who’s hyperaware of certain demographics:  “Rachel Getting Married” boasts one of the most racially diverse casts I’ve ever seen, and yet race never once enters the picture.  Never.  Not even a whiff.  Extra super bonus points to Lumet and Demme; may others heed your example.

“Rachel Getting Married” speaks to both the normal dysfunction that thrives in all families and the compounding effects of tragedy on that dysfunction.  It’s an uncomfortable movie by its very nature, and if you turn to movies purely for entertainment value, you’re not going to want to watch this one.  But if you’ve ever loved family, ever hated family, or ever dealt with the loss of family, you need to.

Share this page with your friends!

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: