I’m sure there are a number of people out there who actually get excited when they check the mail to find the next in a seemingly never ending string of wedding invitations. I am not that person. Unless the invitation is to attend the nuptials of a dear friend or a close family member, all I see is an invitation to what will inevitably be a long day of small talk and potentially awkward speeches that will cost me a lot more than the day at the movies I would much rather be having. You are about to get an invitation to an entirely different kind of wedding though and not only must you RSVP as soon as possible, you must get yourself looking your best because this is a wedding I can guarantee you will enjoy. You will laugh and cry, be horrified and be moved all within the span of one intimate weekend despite not knowing a single other person there. This invitation comes from veteran filmmaker, Jonathan Demme, and this uniquely grounding catharsis is what happens when you attend “Rachel Getting Married”.
Yes, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married but that is far from the only big event happening on this particular weekend. Her sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway), is also coming home for the wedding after nine months into rehab for drug addiction. Kym has been in and out of facilities for a number of years and her disease has taken a hard toll on her family. This time is different though as she has now gone nine months sober, just enough time to be reborn as a new person. Only, no one knows whether they can trust this, including Kym herself, and subsequently, no one knows exactly how to resolve the past and the present. Despite all this potential drama brewing, Demme shows up at the Connecticut house with an extensive crew of cameramen and is allowed full access. This is no ordinary wedding story though. What Demme strings together is a seamless documentary style expose of one family at a pivotal point in their history. The shots and cuts are as jagged as Hathaway’s choppy bob, creating a constant edginess throughout that is soothed only by the numerous musically inclined wedding guests casually playing in adjoining rooms.
In order for Demme’s brave, raw approach to elevate past gimmick and achieve the harrowing beauty that it does, the players need to come off as natural and as familial as possible. Obviously, any actor in any film needs to give a strong performance in order for the film to be better but it is imperative here in order for the viewer to feel that they are actually a guest at this wedding. The cast is superb. As Rachel, DeWitt is a woman filled with both love and fear. She is surrounded by love from her immediate family and new extended family but she is also worried that all this love will be taken away from her as it has in the past. Her father, played by Bill Irwin, is as giddy as a young boy to be giving away his oldest daughter and to have his youngest back at home. The girls’ estranged mother, played very subtly by Debra Winger, is noticeably absent even when she’s in the room. It is naturally Hathaway though that shines brightest. Yes, she does have the showiest part, but it is how well she owns this role that is most impressive, in that it is altogether surprising given her previous work. Hathaway is a force that demands attention whenever she is on screen, which only further lends weight to the fragile, unintentional neediness of her character. She inspires both disdain and sympathy but never seems to care which we feel more.
When I first saw “Rachel Getting Married”, I felt disoriented leaving the theatre. Once I had finished drying my eyes, I had to sit down because I didn’t feel ready to walk. This is Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece. It is filled with such candid moments from random friends singing at the rehearsal dinner to intense family eruptions that make you feel as though you should leave the room. It is all so real, all so warm and all so deeply personal. There is an abundance of love at this wedding but like any great love, it comes with great potential for pain and sorrow. And while it may be a horrible struggle at times, “Rachel Getting Married” always strives to focus on the love and the future that love will make possible.
Review by Joseph Bélanger