All romantic comedies end in a wedding. In what could have been a formulaic approach, “Rachel Getting Married” goes against the grain of movies like “Runaway Bride” to “Meet the Parents” and unexpectedly avoids conjuring up that sappy feeling of being on the outside of some perfect and unattainable love. On the other hand, this quirky, nuptial film yields atraditional results, diverting the focus away from the central relationship and onto the issues that affect and shape those involved in the matrimony. The story of a perfect love ending in a perfect wedding is beyond stale, but Rachel Getting Married holds attention with its fresh rawness and enthralling cast.
After nine months in rehab, Kym (Anne Hathaway), a recovering addict, is let out to attend her sister Rachel’s wedding. Kym’s arrival causes tensions to run high as the family’s deep-rooted secrets surface. With a divorced set of parents [a self-absorbed mother (Debra Winger) and a worried and remarried father (Bill Irwin)], the family is definitely dysfunctional. Beyond commonplace arguments though, a past tragedy causes an unspoken rift due to Kym’s drug-related involvement. The addition of Rachel’s fiancé Sidney ’s (Tunde Adebimpe) family makes for a motley crew of personalities. The wedding must go on though, and so amidst the ruckus, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her family try to hold the pieces together even with the ghosts of the family’s past coming to the foreground.
Hathaway delivers a stunning performance as the snarky Kym. Taking a career risk, Hathaway succeeds in her portrayal of the dark addict, whose troubles run deep. There are definitely no tiaras and no Prada-clad bosses in this one. Hathaway’s safe roles had her typecast as the lovable leading lady, but this pivotal digression is the bit of edginess her career needed. Very little of her previous work (“The Princess Diaries”, “Ella Enchanted”) had demonstrated such versatility. She has even played a bride recently in “Bride Wars”, but the chick-flick essence is nowhere to be found in this sophisticated film. The celebrity in Hathaway can relate to the privacy Kym lacks where everyone knows the details of her life.In one such scene a store clerk asks, “Didn’t I see you on cops?” So, director Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “ Philadelphia”) himself took a risk, and the results are certainly successful. It’s hard to be completely surprised by Demme’s ability to bring such rich characters to life, because he has of courses directed seven actors into Oscar nominations. The man just has good instincts.
In another interesting move, Demme made the choice to only include music in the film when live musicians might actually be present, such as at the wedding ceremony. With original music by Zafer Tawil and Donald Harrison Jr, the musician’s presence must have been hard to film and edit, yet easy to appreciate. There were definitely a few scenes where the cuts to the musicians could have been a little shorter. Oddly though, even the most dramatic of scenes lack a score and place all focus on action. Music takes you out of the moment, by suggesting what you should be feeling. Abstaining from music is almost as powerful as having music in that it allows you to completely put yourself into the scene. It is refreshing to leave the movie feeling like you don’t have to believe in some magical, perfect setting with a storybook ending. The beauty is in the realness.
The humor of the film comes straight out of this raw realness, not from antics like in “I Love You, Man” or “Bride Wars.” In one scene, Rachel announces her pregnancy to the family. This news is followed by Kym’s jealous and immature but totally realistic reaction. She exclaims, “That is so unfair!” because this news interrupted the family quarrel. Sibling arguments hit close to home in most of us. Of course, the feuds of a recovering addict and her mother-figure sister are more intense that most dynamics. However, a very lovable and believable relationship unfolds between Kym and Rachel that shows the tension between the past and the present and between blame and forgiveness.
Nothing in this movie looks rehearsed or scripted. The characters act naturally and with ease. They do not even appear to be acting at all and almost theatrically bring first-time writer Jenny Levet’s screenplay to life. The dialogue is not overwhelming, but rather strikes the perfect balance of what would happen during an actual wedding weekend. The conversations and expressions of the characters can now guide your emotions, creating a whole new level of realness. Being the first fiction piece he has crafted in a while, Demme shows that his documentary style has certainly rubbed off on this unusual film. Some of this documentary-style comes from the movie having been filmed with a video camera by Declan Quinn (“In America”, “Vanity Fair”). This calls to mind the recording of a home-video or something of the sort, which only furthers the realistic feel of the movie.
All of this realness makes for a very real set of emotions and overtly complex identities. Starting off as the unlovable and angst-ridden heroine, it might be surprising to end up really feeling for Kym in the end. She is just an imperfect human fighting for her place in her family, and we sure can all relate to that.