When Kym (Anne Hathaway - Golden Globe Nominee, Best Actress, Motion Picture (Drama)), returns to the Buchman family home for the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), she brings a long history of personal crises, family conflict and tragedy along with her. The wedding couple's abundant party of friends and relations have gathered for a joyful weekend of feasting, music and love, but Kym - with her biting one-liners and flair for bombshell drama - is a catalyst for long-simmering tensions in the family dynamic. Filled with the rich and eclectic characters that remain a hallmark of Jonathan Demme's films, Rachel Getting Married paints a heartfelt, perceptive and sometimes hilarious family portrait.
Try as I did, I could not bring myself to cheer for Rachel’s nuptials. Do weddings make people that selfish about other’s circumstances? Do weddings make people so egotistical that they cannot look past their own pain to notice that of those around them, especially the people most close to them? That’s how I felt about Rachel whose spiteful words and actions towards Kym, her recovering drug addict of a sister who has been in and out of rehab for the past 10 years, just irked me so.
As its title implies, this movie is built around Rachel’s wedding weekend- but it could also be just as appropriately titled Kym’s homecoming weekend. Kym’s been given a weekend pass from rehab to attend her sister’s wedding, and her presence ignites painful feelings and memories suppressed and simmering. My sympathies go out to Rachel- for she is the victim of an established family homeostasis that conveniently keeps her labelled as the “black sheep” of the family.
It’s surprising how this movie manages to get you so caught up with its characters- besides Rachel and Kym, there’s also their father, caught between two daughters that he loves just as deeply, and their cold and somewhat aloof mother, both parents also now divorced and into their second marriages. Quite unsuspectingly, director Johnathan Demme’s latest movie weaves you into his characters and before you know it, you’ll find yourself either loving or hating them.
Effective as it is, Rachel Getting Married is by no means an easy movie to watch. It is a raw movie. It exposes raw emotions on the surface, and hints at resentments and bitterness buried deep within. It uses the occasion of a wedding to bring out the worst in human behaviour, but also especially towards the end, illuminates the best. It is a real and realistic reflection of family dynamics, some parts even readily identifiable within our own families.
What lends the movie a greater feel of authenticity is Demme and his cinematographer, Declan Quinn’s decision to shoot the movie hand-held. Their at-times shaky camera work may not be to everyone’s liking, but it does make the proceedings intimate and immediate at the same time. Demme’s decision not to storyboard the movie- but to give Quinn the freedom to choose how and where to shoot based on how the actors were responding- also adds to this sense of propinquity.
Anne Hathaway’s performance as the troubled sister Kym has been showered with accolades and watching her heartbreaking act, she is certainly deserving of the praise she has received. Hathaway has been trying to break free of her comedic roots for some time now and while her previous attempts have been less than successful, this role is without a doubt her best, her ability to portray Kym both empathetically and outrageously by no means a small feat.
So it is with the rest of the actors- Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel, Bill Irwin as their Rachel and Kym’s father and a rare luminous performance by Debra Winger as their mother- as well as the many non-actors, especially the musicians that Demme brought in to add much colour and life to the wedding ceremonies (including his own son, Brooklyn Demme, as the wedding guitarist). They make up the spontaneity that is very much a character of the movie itself- and while I said earlier I can’t cheer for Rachel, I can certainly do for this movie, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, always exuberant.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
It’s a pity that there isn’t any commentary by director Johnathan Demme himself- it would have been nice to hear how his rather unconventional decisions in shooting the film played out on the set. In place of that, here’s what we have to contend with:
A Look Behind the Scenes of Rachel Getting Married: A very general making-of the film, where director Johnathan Demme shares what he hoped to accomplish with what he calls his return to indie-films.
The Wedding Band: A shorter featurette, also featuring director Demme, specifically on the use of live music and the somewhat unusual decision to record what’s being played on the set of the movie and use it in the final cut.
Deleted Scenes: Nothing too interesting that adds to what we already know about the characters from the scenes in the movie.
Cast and Crew Q & A: This is an almost hour-long session recorded at the New York Jacob Burns Centre that is most insightful for how Demme worked together with the rest of his crew, including editor Tim Squyres, on realising his vision of possibly his most intimate film to date. Pity though that the audio doesn’t come out very well so you’ll have to turn up your volume at times to catch what the people are saying.
The picture may look grainy at times during the indoor evening dinner scenes but that’s more a stylistic element of the film than a fault of this DVD. Otherwise, the film looks clean and the colours most vibrant during the wedding scenes. The Dolby 5.1 audio helps make the eclectic musical compositions come alive during the movie, especially in making you feel like you’ve been invited to the wedding- which was quite possibly director Johnathan Demme’s intent of this movie.
by Gabriel Chong