It’s an odd feeling going into a film whose director’s only other work you are familiar with is The Silence of the Lambs. To add to the confusion, others in your part may be afraid that they are settling in for a screening of the much more highly-publicised Bride Wars. All notions of fava bean chomping cannibals and shrill comedies will be put aside, and swiftly, by the excellence of Rachel Getting Married.
Thrown into the final preparations for a wedding at home is Kym (Anne Hathaway), returning from nine months in rehab. To bride-to-be Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt, of Mad Men fame) she’s one more piece of chaos added into an already brimming pot, and Kym with her acerbic wit is hardly the easiest person to deal with. Their father Paul (Bill Irwin) tries to manage them with blind optimism, but you can’t get feuding siblings, an estranged mother (Debra Winger), two entire extended families, wedding guests and more musicians than the average jazz festival together, and have things go off without a hitch. Secrets are revealed, old bones are unearthed, and it’s no spoiler to say that Rachel does, indeed, get married.
It’s nowhere as soap opera dramatic as that last sentence makes it sound, however, so if you are expecting amnesiac twins to rise from the grave and identify random women as once being their step-fathers, look elsewhere. Realism is this film’s take on the material; it’s an amped-up hyper-reality sometimes, but it’s reality nonetheless. And that uncomfortable feeling of reality — even if you’ve never been in situations like these, you know instinctively that it’s how they play out — is done perfectly.
But if this film was only about people being vicious to each other it wouldn’t be a very great movie, and Rachel Getting Married thankfully realises that. Director Jonathan Demme has described it as ‘a wedding video’ and if you were unfamiliar with the actors you might just mistake it for one. It’s an exquisitely shot and edited wedding video to be sure, that might pass off as a verité, warts-and-all documentary (full marks to cinematographer Declan Quinn & editor Tim Squyres). They linger on the expressions of characters great and small — some only glimpsed for a moment — and the happier moments of the wedding weekend, of which there are many. Going in you may find the extended toast sequence at the rehearsal hokey, and the impromptu dishwasher-stacking competition, and the strangeness of the Indian costumes and garlands in the trousseau, but I guarantee you that by the time the groom starts singing at the altar you will, as you would at a real wedding, be swept up in the feeling.
You can laugh it all — you do — but it’s handled with enough heart that you understand what it’s actually conveying.
That it succeeds is thanks in no small part to the wealth of talent behind and in front of the camera. I was never greatly impressed by The Silence of the Lambs, but Jonathan Demme’s talent is obviously formidable. It takes a mightly good director to make something look effortless and energetic, and this exactly what is achieved here. Jenny Lumet’s script is tight and smart, endlessly witty, with cunningly astute renditions of sibling arguments and everyday family banter.
There isn’t really a weak performance in the cast either, with Anne Hathaway deservedly getting a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards for this (I predict it won’t be the last, and she’ll actually win one some day). Her performance of Kym could have been snarky and unlikeable, but she plays it with a fine balance of strength, vulnerability and frustration. You do sometimes think that the former addict might be the sanest person in the room. Bill Irwin is lovely as the man trying to smooth everything over, giddy with delight at his daughter’s wedding, as is Rosemarie DeWitt as the spoiled eldest daughter. But it’s Debra Winger who really impresses, as only an actress of her calibre and experience can.
If you haven’t gathered by now, I absolutely loved this movie, and if you missed it in theatres it’s definitely worth a look on DVD.
It’s hard to slot Rachel Getting Married into a single genre, if you’re into that sort of thing. There’s a lot of comedy in there, and a lot of drama (I don’t care to use the term ‘dramedy’), but moreso that everything else, the movie is filled with Life. “This isn’t your family,” the trailer says, “but it is your family,” and it’s true. If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you’ll be immediately and intensely familiar with the way it feels in the movie. If ‘Life’ is a genre you accept, then that’s what it is.
And what a fine slice of Life it is.