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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review: Rachel Getting Married (2008)

* * * 1/2

Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt

Rachel Getting Married is a film about the three “a”s of family get-togethers: awkwardness, agony, affection. A lot of things go unsaid in the film, and a lot of things are said that perhaps shouldn’t be. It can occasionally be difficult to watch but it really nails the complex and sometimes contradictory dynamics that play out between members of a family. At the centre of it all, Anne Hathaway demonstrates just how much she has matured as an actress.

Hathaway stars as Kym, a woman with deep emotional scars who takes a break from her latest stint in rehab to attend the wedding of her sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). Although her reunion with her sister is happy, albeit a bit tentatively, tensions quickly begin to mount. Kym is accustomed to being the centre of attention and can’t bring herself to relinquish it, even on what should be Rachel’s day. This is par for the course as far as Rachel is concerned and there comes a point when she basically accuses Kym of holding the family hostage with her antics. Their father (Bill Irwin) tries to mediate, but makes things worse by seeming (to Rachel, at least) to favour Kym, about whom he is considerably and understandably worried.

Largely absent from the pre-wedding festivities is Rachel and Kym’s mother, Abby (Debra Winger), who even when she is around holds herself at a distance from her children. Her participation in the wedding is slight, even when Rachel tries to gently prod her into becoming more involved, and she remains largely cold and emotionless throughout the proceedings, save for one scene between her and Kym. The way that these three characters interact with each other explains a lot without actually spelling everything out. It’s a prime example of how to show rather than tell.

As Kym, Anna Hathaway really comes into her own as an actress. I’ve always found Hathaway to be a likeable but not particularly memorable actress, but here she renders a performance of incredible depth. There is one scene in particular which stands out for me, when Kym, who has allowed herself to become defined by a family tragedy, asks who she’s supposed to be if she stops being the family’s train wreck. DeWitt is similarly excellent as the frustrated older sister who at one point informs Kym that she wishes she’d either get better or die so that the family can finally be released from her chaos. The relationship between the sisters is fraught but not doomed – beneath all the old resentments that have been built up, there’s genuine affection and a desire for things to be better between them.

To navigate the audience through these relationships director Jonathan Demme uses a handheld camera, which gives the story an intimacy that is occasionally brutal. It should be said though that during the wedding reception scenes it does start to feel a little too much like watching a home movie, and as an audience you start to feel a bit anxious for the story to get moving again. When all is said and done, however, the good far outweighs the bad and this is definitely a movie worth seeing.


Fox said...

Good review.

I agree with your observation that the hand-held camera during the wedding/reception part of the film kind of started to annoy. In fact, I felt a little naseous. I think it was b/c the camera was shaky and so were the people dancing... it was like a spaz attack on the senses.

Pat said...

Like you and Fox, I found the weddeing reception scenes to drag on and on and on to the point where I was sort of squirming in my seat, thinking "Enough already!"

But, overall, I thought it was a very fine film. Glad to see you agree