Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 10/26/08 w/ Additional Edits.
Directed by Jonathan Demme and written by first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet, daughter of legendary director Sidney Lumet, Rachel Getting Married tells the story of a woman about to be married as families from different cultures and worlds celebrate. About to attend this celebration is the bride's younger, troubled ex-model sister whose in-and-out trips to rehab hasn't stopped her volatile, abrasive personality. Upon her arrival, she has to deal with all of the family that goes on including a visit from her estranged mother as secrets from family closets lead to turmoil. The film is an exploration of family dynamics amidst in a moment for a woman's celebration to be wedded while watching her younger sister deal with all of her troubles and its source. With an all-star cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith, TV on the Radio vocalist Tunde Adebimpe with a cameo from hip-hop legend Fab 5 Freddy, and Debra Winger. Rachel Getting Married is a charming yet harrowing drama from Jonathan Demme.
It's a big weekend coming as Rachel Buckman (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married with friends and family watching. Arriving to attend the wedding ceremony is Rachel's younger sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) who is currently attending rehab for substance abuse. Clean for nine months though her abrasive personality is still in tact, the ex-model is picked up by her father Paul (Bill Irwin) and stepmother Carol (Anna Deavere Smith). Paul is extremely concerned for Kym's safety as Kym sees Rachel along with Rachel's friend Emma (Anisa George). Kym also meets Rachel's fiancee Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) as Kym wonders if her mother Abby (Debra Winger) will show up.
Kym attends a near-by addicts meeting where she meets Kiernan (Mather Zickel), who is Sidney's best man. Yet, Kym learns that Emma is Rachel's maid of honor as Kym gets all dramatic until Rachel has Kym become the maid of honor. During a rehearsal dinner where Kym meets Sidney's family, Abby along with her husband Andrew (Jerome LaPage) show up. During the exuberant dinner, Kym gets her chance to speak as she talks about amends in her dark yet comical presentation. After the dinner, the family drama between Kym and Rachel becomes intense when Rachel makes a big announcement. With the wedding day getting closer, Rachel isn't sure if bringing Kym to the wedding is a good idea.
Kym meanwhile, begins to reveal the source of her troubles during an addicts meeting that involved the death of her younger brother Ethan many years ago. Things get worse during an innocent contest between Sidney and Paul where a plate that belonged to Ethan was accidentally shown. The drama intensifies at a salon when a man encounters Kym over some family secrets that she revealed during rehab that angers Rachel. Another family meeting with Paul and Carol watching reveals some heavy moments leaving Kym upset as Kiernan tries to put some perspective into what Kym had said in her meetings. When Kym goes to her mother, the family secrets over Ethan's death boils over driving Kym distraught. With the wedding now happening and Kym behaving, everyone celebrates as Kym ponders about herself and the fractured relationship she has with her family.
Any film set in a wedding celebration makes for a classic case for a dramatic template. Even when there's some family drama that is surrounding it. What makes this film unique is that it's about a celebration and the one person who is bringing all of the emotional baggage to that celebration. Of course, if it was done in a Hollywood-style type of drama. It would feel often false, contrived, and ends with a cheesy happy ending. Fortunately, Jonathan Demme and first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet don't go for that route and instead take its time to study the characters and the surrounding that goes on.
Lumet's screenplay is truly top-notch as she explores the unique dynamic between a family and all of its dysfunction. In the center of all of this are the two sisters, Kym and Rachel. Kym is filled with a lot of guilt while is hanging by a thread on the brink of collapse while wanting attention and such. Rachel is a woman who is about to get married and is trying to cope with Kym's presence and the fact that Kym is willing to do a lot to ruin things. Watching all of this is their father who is extremely protective of Kym as he even suggests that she should return home for good so he can watch her. Along with his wife Carol, another person that's watching the drama from afar is their mother Abby. The distant woman is revealed to be part of the source to not just her divorce with Paul but also some of the family drama that goes on including the death of their son, Ethan.
What Lumet reveals is a lot of family secrets with everyone carrying some guilt as well as pointing the fingers over what happened. Yet, the ending clearly shows that this family still needs to figure things out while trying to help Kym, who is clearly fragile despite her selfish behavior. While the film is mostly dramatic, there are some touching moments like the rehearsal dinner, the wedding, and reception where it's clearly unique with this diverse group of people. While Lumet's script is definitely brilliant in its study of family dynamic and key characters. It's presented wonderfully and intimately in the hands of its director Jonathan Demme.
Taking cues from his work in documentary as well as the Dogme 95 cinematic style filled with hand-held cameras, no artificial lighting, on location sets, and on-location sound. Demme creates a film where the audience feels and acts like participants in the wedding and family drama that is unfolding. Yet, his approach to the direction is atmospheric and welcoming where the audience is immediately aware that they're watching something that might be going on in real life. Particularly the way he presents the drama with close-ups and perspective shots to reveal what the character is seeing and such.
Demme's direction is truly superb from the way he presents each scene to how the wedding celebration and reception is captured in all of its exuberance. Demme, whose feature-film work had often become conventional in recent years has finally returned to his improvisational, independent filmmaking roots. In this film, Demme creates probably his best and most poignant film since 1986's Something Wild.
Cinematographer Declan Quinn does excellent work with the film's natural, hand-held, Dogme 95 filmmaking style. Shot with digital, high-definition cameras including home video cameras, the film has a look and immediacy that plays true to the Dogme 95 style. The look of the film is grainy yet atmospheric in its look and coloring as it's definitely feels real as opposed to the flashy, sometimes artificiality of Hollywood films. Editor Tim Squyres does great work in the film's editing with the use of jump-cuts and transitions to create a rhythmic feel to the film. Squyres' work is truly superb in its sense of rhythmic cutting, smooth pacing, and immediacy to help Demme in what he wants in the direction of the film.
Production designer Ford Wheeler along with set decorator Chryss Hionis and art director Kim Jennings do a fantastic job with the look of the traditional home of Paul's house, the posh look of Abby's home, and the look of the wedding and its reception. With all of its Indian look and such including great costume design by Susan Lyall, the film has a unique, worldly look that looks inviting to the point that the audience wants to attend a wedding like this. Sound editor Paul Urmson and designer Blake Leyh create great, natural sounds to capture the atmosphere and tension of the film's drama and celebration scenes.
The music by composers Donald Harrison Jr. and Zafer Tawil is wonderfully diverse with mostly on-location playing of string instruments of violins and mandolins. With additional music ranging from hip-hop, indie rock, and world music, contributing to the film's rich soundtrack are TV on the Radio vocalist Tunde Adebimpe singing a Neil Young song and two original songs sung on location by Robyn Hitchcock, who makes a cameo.
The casting by Tiffany Little Canfield and Bernard Telsey is truly unique with an array of memorable roles and appearances where along with Robyn Hitchcock, two different icons make cameo appearances. Legendary indie film icon Roger Corman and hip-hop icon Fab 5 Freddy make some noteworthy appearances. Other small but memorable roles that stand out include Mel Jones as a speaker at the wedding, Roslyn Ruff as Kym's nurse in the opening scene, Andre B. Blake as a man who knew Rachel at a rehab meeting, and Jerome Le Page as Abby's husband Andrew. Other notable standout performances come from actors as Sidney's family including Kyrah Julian as his sister, Herreast Harrison as his grandmother, Gonzales Joseph as the cousin, and Carol Jean Lewis in a great role as Sidney's mother.
Mather Zickel is excellent as Kiernan, Sidney's best man and a recovering addict who sympathizes with Kym's issues as he tries to show perspective about addiction and recovery to her family. Anisa George is also excellent as Rachel's friend Emma who doesn't get along with Kym as she gets upset when she loses her role as maid of honor and tries to make Kym feel horrible. TV on the Radio vocalist Tunde Adebimpe is great as Sidney, the man who would marry Rachel as he makes himself part of the family while being the caring guy for both Rachel and Kym. Anna Deavere Smith is wonderful in a small but noteworthy role as Carol, Paul's wife who is trying to keep the peace in the family as she watches all the family drama unfold. Debra Winger is brilliant in her role as Kym and Rachel's distant, aloof mother who watches from afar over Kym's behavior unaware that she might've caused all of the problems in the family.
Bill Irwin is superb in his role as Paul, the family patriarch who is excited over the wedding and Rachel's happiness while extremely concerned for the well-being of Kym. Irwin's performance is filled with light, comical touches in his expressions as well as sadness over the fact that he lost a son and with regrets over how Kym had fallen. Irwin's performance is truly noteworthy and definitely a highlight of the film. Rosemarie DeWitt is great as the title character, Rachel, as she is trying to get ready for the happiest day of her life while dealing with her sister's presence. DeWitt brings a sense of anger and jealousy as she tries to one-up her sister in attention and often wins while having immense hatred for Kym in how Kym tries to be the center of attention. DeWitt is really the anchor of the film as her performance truly stands out as she gets her chance to shine.
If Rosemarie DeWitt is the film's breakthrough performance, then her co-star and lead Anne Hathaway is the film's real revelation and break-out performance. Known mostly for light-hearted comic fare like The Princess Diaries films, Ella Enchanted, The Devil Wears Prada, and most recently, Get Smart. Hathaway had always shown that she can do dramatic roles in films like Nicholas Nickelby, Becoming Jane, Havoc, and Ang Lee's 2005 masterpiece Brokeback Mountain. Yet, none of these films could reveal the pain and angst that Hathaway reveals in her role as Kym where Hathaway brings a raw, fiery, and stripped-down performance. There's moments where Hathaway brings a personality filled with selfishness and diva-esque where she makes her character at times, unlikeable yet reveal that there's something complex about Kym.
Hathaway exudes all of the troubles that Kym is as even when she's not speaking or just struggling, there's a performance that definitely makes the audience re-think of what she can do. There's comical moments in Hathaway's performance but it's often done with sarcasm, wit, and off-putting as opposed to her other light-comedic film work. While many will say that her performance is her trying to get an Oscar nomination, it's those performance that actually work where Hathaway proves that there's more to her than her beauty, winning smile, and comic charm. It's in this performance that proves that Anne Hathaway is truly one of the best young actresses working today.
Rachel Getting Married is definitely one of the year's best films and certainly Jonathan Demme's most stylish film since 1986's Something Wild. Thanks in large part to Jenny Lumet's character-driven screenplay and the performance of Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Bill Irwin, it's a film that is harrowing yet charming. Fans of Anne Hathaway will be surprised in what the young actress can do while a new discovery is made in Rosemarie DeWitt. With a great soundtrack and a wedding/reception scene that is enjoyable to watch, it's a wedding that certainly anyone would love to attend. In the end, Rachel Getting Married is a film that is truly surprising, inviting, and real thanks to the grand yet intimate vision of director Jonathan Demme.
Jonathan Demme Films: (Caged Heat) - (Crazy Mama) - (Fighting Mad) - (Handle with Care) - (Last Embrace) - (Melvin and Howard) - (Who Am I This Time?) - (Swing Shift) - Stop Making Sense - (Something Wild) - (Swimming to Cambodia) - (Married to the Mob) - (The Silence of the Lambs) - (Cousin Bobby) - (Philadelphia) - (Storefront Hitchcock) - (Beloved) - (The Truth About Charlie) - (The Agronomist) - (The Manchurian Candidate (2004 film)) - (Neil Young: Heart of Gold) - (Man from Plains) - (Neil Young Trunk Show) - (Neil Young: Journeys) - (A Master Builder) - Ricki & the Flash
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