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RSVP to Rachel Getting Married

by Glen Baity

When you go to a movieabout a wedding, you’ve probably got a good idea what you’re in for.It’ll feature some attractive young starlet (Kate Hudson, KatherineHeigl, Isla Fisher), there will be some romping about with the bestman, a case of mistaken identity, a feel-good ending. Rachel Getting Married isnot that kind of movie. The wedding planner is not in love with thegroom, the maid of honor doesn’t have 27 dresses in her closet and thebride does not run away. Instead, it’s about weddings in the realworld, where families that are often quite unhappy put theirdifferences to bed for a weekend, smile pretty and muddle through forthe sake of the happy couple.

TheRachel of the title isn’t even the main character, which is kind of thepoint: The film centers on Kym (Anne Hathaway), her drug-addictedyounger sister, who leaves her latest rehab facility to attend Rachel’s(Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding at the family home in Connecticut. The storycontinually circles back to Kym’s fervent belief that the world mustrevolve around her, but hers is no garden-variety narcissism. Thespecter of an old, deeply painful deed for which Kym is responsiblehangs over this entire family, though it takes the film a while to layout exactly what happened. Suffice it to say that Kym believeseveryone still hates her, and to an extent she’s right. Her clumsyattempts to make amends for her many, many mistakes only pick at thescabs. Director Jonathan Demme commands brilliant performancesfrom a large cast, particularly Hathaway, who does what is undoubtedlythe best work of her career so far. Kym is a maddening character,sympathetic but also manipulative and self-centered. Hathawaydisappears into the role, bringing out the nuances in Jenny Lumet’sexcellent script. Hathaway has fielded most of the early buzz, butthere’s a deep well of talent in Rachel Getting Married. Thereare so many welldrawn characters here, especially Rachel and herhusband-to-be, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe, lead singer of Brooklyn art-rockoutfit TV on the Radio), and Rachel and Kym’s parents, played withguarded joy by Bill Irwin and Debra Winger. They all fit perfectly withDemme’s documentary-style camera work, which captures the chaos of thiswedding weekend in a realistic way. At the same time, there’s anotherworldly quality to it all. Rachel’s wedding is a Hindu ceremony,full of lush color and great music, which you can hear drifting throughthe walls of every scene as the band rehearses. The dialogue flows sonaturally and honestly it doesn’t seem scripted, and Demme takes theopportunity to linger on moments most directors would cut away from —rehearsal dinner speeches, Narcotics Anonymous meetings and the weddingitself all go on at some length, capturing the lulls in conversationand the boring chit-chat. It has the effect of making the viewer feellike he’s in the room with the characters, just another guest at thewedding. And it’s often in those seemingly unimportant moments that something of deep significance transpires.

Rachel Getting Married isone of the best films about family and the harsh ramifications ofaddiction that I’ve ever seen. Accordingly, it can be extremely intenseand almost oppressively dark, even a bit annoying when the familybegins psychoanalyzing itself. Demme allows his characters to skirttheir painful memories for a little while, but ultimately they’ll haveto confront them explicitly. The result is wrenching, but it’s onlypart of the experience of this complicated and ultimately satisfyingmovie. Another part, one that’s just as significant, is thefilm’s eloquent statement about love. This family, new members and old,radiate with affection toward one another, even under impossiblecircumstances. And it should be said that the wedding itselfis a wonder. I’m not one to cry at these sorts of things, but I’lladmit to getting a little choked up when Sidney serenades his new bridewith an a cappella version of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend.”It’s a beautiful moment, one among many, that captures the humanity inall these people and makes their struggles toward happiness worthwhile.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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