Rachel Getting Married
The family get-together movie never goes out of style – in fact, if anything, it seems more popular than ever. Last week’s A Christmas Tale gave us a Gallic spin on the usual collection of crazy relatives, resentments and reconciliations; a bit more style, a lot less sentimentality.
Mind you, Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married is not your usual Hollywood frock frolic. Kate Hudson is nowhere in sight. Instead we get Anne Hathaway in black eyeliner and a severe bob. She’s Kym, Rachel’s sister, and the wedding is her first day release after a long spell in rehab. For someone with her history of abuse (and she can dish it out too) it’s bound to be a baptism by fire. You get the feeling Kym wouldn’t have it any other way.
She has a way of sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Rachel is delighted to see her – of course – but apprehensive too. Their dad (Bill Irwin) fusses over her like he’s afraid she’ll shoot up in front of the priest. The maid of honor hates her guts – even before Kym insists it’s her job by birthright (and screws the best man in the laundry room).
Demme is the estimable director of Silence Of The Lambs, Philadelphia, and, once upon a time, Roger Corman exploitation quickies like Crazy Mama (*Corman gets a screen credit for a role that lasts a fraction of a second – look for a grey haired gent with a video camera).
Demme’s been a bit out of touch lately, though some of us like his Manchurian Candidate remake he’s generally done better work over the last decade in documentaries and concert films. Perhaps that’s why he and Director of Photography Declan Quinn opt to shoot in a spontaneous, documentary style with a handheld camera and lots of jump cuts. It feels like reality TV or one of those those jittery cop shows, though I’d guess the inspiration was the Danish film Festen (The Celebration), the most effective of the Dogme movies (and another film about a large family gathering on the point of going nuclear).
The vérité style puts the onus on the actors, and if they deliver the results can be startlingly authentic. That’s very much the case here – Anne Hathaway seems like a different actress than we’ve seen before, much edgier and more alive. As Rachel, Rosemarie DeWitt – an actress who’s new to me (she looks like Elizabeth Shue’s sister) – is even better in a more difficult and nuanced role. And then there’s Debra Winger, in her first mainstream release in many a year, underplaying with rare precision as the sisters’ mom, who is now divorced from their dad, and who seems in full-scale emotional retreat from the family.
Kym is her mother’s opposite. One is running away from attention, the other can’t stop herself from stealing even her sister’s big day. She’s a nightmare wedding guest, a time-bomb waiting for the moment of maximum impact. Hathaway’s performance is a flurry of darting jabs and imagined sleights. She’s hyper-sensitive and utterly insensitive at the same time, her obvious smarts crushed under years of smarting.
So what’s her problem anyhow? There’s the rub – and the point where this fresh, lively picture falls in on itself. Without going into particulars, Kym is living with years of guilt. It spills out of her at the rehearsal dinner and washes over the room like toxic shock – and it doesn’t stop there. The whole movie is contaminated with the psychological fall-out. In the last act, the script, by Jenny Lumet (Sidney’s daughter), turns into something whiny and conventional when for two thirds of the running time it seemed so unforced and fresh.
It doesn’t help (or does it?) that the family is well-heeled Connecticut with artsy associations. The film’s score is supplied by live performances from various guests – many of whom will be familiar to fans of previous Jonathan Demme soundtracks: they include Robyn Hitchcock, Sister Carol East and a posse of Brazilian drummers. The bridegroom is Tunde Adebimpe, from TV on the Radio. The only surprise is that Neil Young doesn’t show up.
It’s debatable whether all this music stalls Rachel in its tracks or serves as a welcome counterpoint to the finger-pointing. A bit of both maybe. But it’s disappointing that a movie so intent on immersing us in the moment should sink into such a swamp of back-story.
Unlike most family gathering movies, Rachel Getting Married does make you reflect on what family stand for, and indeed the marriage ritual itself. That’s a substantial achievement. Whether we needed to be subjected to every single guest’s wedding speech is another matter entirely…
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