To date, I’ve only attended three weddings in my life. Two of them I was in, but none as the star. All were fairly traditional. Held at churches. Brides wore white. Groomsmen dressed in tuxedoes. As the title would suggest, a wedding takes place at the core of Rachel Getting Married, and exists to drive the surrounding events. Although the wedding was nothing like the others I’ve attended, aside from the lawful union of two people, I feel I can chalk up another tally on my Wedding Attendance Scorecard.
The titular Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is indeed tying the knot with her fiancé Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), but she is not the center of attention, as all brides aspire to be. She is upstaged by her sister Kym (Anne Hathaway), who is granted a two-day leave of absence from her long-standing stint in drug rehabilitation, for the sole purpose of attending the wedding. Although Kym is content to keep a lower profile, her family is wound tightly throughout her presence. She makes them stiffen up whenever she enters a room, as there are skeletons in her drug-addled closet.
Regardless of tensions, the show must go on. No one comes between a bride and her wedding, and this is no exception. Kym tries to stay on her best behavior, managing to attend a drug addiction meeting, trying to maintain some semblance on the life she’s known for so long. She makes an acquaintance with a fellow recovering drug addict, who just happens to be Sidney’s best man. They share an intimate moment, and it appears this may be the road the film heads down. However, the focus is never removed from the wedding and how the bond of sisterhood is exhausted during tumultuous times.
Eventually, Kym lashes out in frustration from the constant peering and unease around her. She vies to be the maid-of-honor, wanting the title stripped from Rachel’s best friend. She gives a self-centered toast at the reception dinner, showing a flair for the dramatic, sucking all celebratory good cheer from the room. Those skeletons in the closet reveal themselves in a bout of competitive dishwashing and it’s instantly understood the wariness and unease that surrounds her. Their divorced mother (Debra Winger) appears to be the one individual that can set things straight, but might be the most uncomfortable of all.
Aside from the downer subject matter of drug rehab and closeted skeletons, the film is actually full of joyous celebration. It is about a wedding after all. In what is supposed to be the happiest day of a couple’s life, the pairing is never discouraged and always positive. The script by first-timer Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) is nothing short of illuminating. It was never in danger of becoming a Hollywood studio picture as it bucks every trend you tried to see coming. It takes a deliberate and methodical pace that invites you to be a fly-on-the-wall throughout its forever-intriguing storyline.
Perfectly married to the script is Jonathan Demme’s expert direction. He employs an ever-roving camera, managing to capture giant scope and miniature detail. He stays with scenes much longer than expected, providing the audience member with the feeling of having been present in the scene. The aforementioned rehearsal dinner sees most, if not all, members of the party stand up and toast the bride and groom, even if they have no other moments throughout. This helps open things up and successfully creates an atmosphere that allows the nuances of the film to flourish. This process is aided by lively music for the duration, making the unique wedding experience that much more.
Of course, the film would ultimately fail those two terrific elements were in not for top-notch acting all-around. Hathaway, looking unglamorous for the first time since pre-transformation in The Princess Diaries, captures the role of her life to-date, with a depth she’s never had a chance to display. Kudos to Demme for immediately thinking of her and helping her inhabit the human tornado. She deserves every acting nomination she’s received for the role, and it’s a shame she hasn’t won to this point. She has successfully transitioned herself from a Disney queen to a tremendous talent, and the roles will be rolling in. Special mentions need to be made for DeWitt, Debra Winger and Bill Irwin, all of whom give award-worthy performances, elevating a great film through terrific chemistry.
Rachel Getting Married was a tremendous experience, from beginning to end. I’ve fallen in love with the movie since seeing it, and I feel it was robbed of more deserved Oscar nominations. No Demme, Lumet, DeWitt or Best Picture nomination leaves the ultimate awards show sorely lacking. The film far outweighs Milk, Frost/Nixon and The Reader, which makes for severe oversight. It’s easily one of my five favorite films of the year, and I hope it gets recognized for being the modern classic it is, as soon as possible.