Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married, and like many American families today, broken and blended branches of the tree poke at the newly woven fabric.
Rachel’s father Paul (Bill Irwin), a sensitive worrier, has remarried Carol (Anna Deavere Smith), a strong, loving woman with an eye for practical details. Meanwhile, Rachel’s mother Abby (Debra Winger) has also taken the plunge again, but in her case, nothing else seems to matter other than Abby and her grande-dame presence that begs deference at every turn. Rachel’s fiancé Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe of the band TV on the Radio) and his muted clan hardly factor into the mix.
But the real loose strand here is Rachel’s sister Kym (Anne Hathaway), the frayed remains of a cloth rent in two. Paul picks her up from her latest stint in rehab to escort her home for her sister’s wedding and it’s immediately obvious that returning to the people, places and things most likely to set her off is not the best treatment scenario. But what can you do, when family is the trigger and there’s a momentous ceremony bringing everyone together?
Jonathan Demme comes home in Rachel Getting Married, but not in the way audiences might expect. The quirky, somewhat dark comedic touches of Something Wild and Married to the Mob get scrapped raw from the first moment Kym enters the backseat of her father’s car. As they catch up on the gossip and the last-minute prep for the impending nuptials, even the unsteadiness of the camera and the grainy drabness of the scenes speak loud and clear of the shallow graveyard of secrets that will be unearthed and suck what little hope and light there is from the proceedings.
Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet, daughter of Sidney, serve up what could almost be described as a documentary approach to the unfolding events because nothing about Rachel and Kym’s family feels scripted in the traditional sense. These are not the wild mobs of loveable losers we’re used to seeing in this kind of comic situation.
Hathaway brilliantly creates a woman walking around with deep emotional wounds that no one in their right mind would want to wrap their arms around to offer support. Having Kym in your embrace simply could be fatal, but we can’t take our eyes off her and that’s a testament to Hathaway, the princess who has runaway from the kingdom and found herself dirty and alone on the side of the road.
The other featured performers nail the difficult task of going further, digging deeper to find the people inside the characters that might have been defined on the page. Movies like The Family Stone go for a similar kind of feel, offering up a crazy quilt of “characters” essayed by familiar faces that we can and will relate to. That’s the way the shorthand works in order to rush headlong into well-plotted incidents that build toward the easily recognizable climax and the feel-good conclusion where the “characters” find themselves on some happy path that leaves us walking out of the theaters with a little bounce in our step.
Rachel Getting Married invites us to this party, setting the audience, I would argue, alongside Sidney’s family, where we get to observe, up close, the dramas between Kym and her family, all the while knowing that there is a degree of remove because, thank God, Sidney’s marrying Rachel and not Kym.
But we feel for her and come to understand the secret — about a dead brother and Kym’s role in his death — that haunts not just Kym but also the entire family. We come to appreciate the struggles to move on from this tragedy. And we realize that once the party’s over, real life returns and there are no simple solutions to create the happy ending we might wish for Kym.
But life goes on, and Demme never misses a beat. Joy and pain dance together, just as something that feels so real holds hands with a bit of make believe and it makes us believe too. Grade: A-
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