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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Unsung Performances: Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married

Seeing The Company Men recently got me thinking about one of my favourite unlauded performances from recent years: Rosemarie DeWitt's fantastic turn as the eponymous character in Rachel Getting Married. The nominees that year were Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Amy Adams and Viola Davis for Doubt, Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler, and eventual winner Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. That's a good lineup, to be sure, but DeWitt could give them all a run for their money.

Rachel Getting Married is the story of a broken family brough together by the wedding of eldest daughter Rachel. Younger daughter Kym has been granted release from rehab in order to attend, the girls' distant mother will be on hand for the ceremony but continues to hold everyone at arm's length, and the spectre of dead brother Ethan hangs over everything. Much of the conflict in the movie comes from the relationship between Rachel and Kym. Kym, who was responsible for Ethan's death, carries around a lot of guilt which in turn feeds her addiction which in turn causes her to act out. Rachel, meanwhile, is frustrated by the way that Kym seems to hold the family hostage with her addiction and angered by the fact that it's her wedding but everyone is preoccupied with Kym.

DeWitt's performance never falters, but there are three moments in particular that have always stood out and stayed with me. One is when the family sits down to talk about the elephant in the room and Rachel tells Kym that she wishes she would get better or die so that the family could be released from the purgatory they've been living in. It's a cutting remark but the way that DeWitt plays it, it does not seem malicious. Rather, it seems like the brutally honest feeling of someone completely at the end of their rope and you're left with the feeling that it isn't so much the inconvenience of Kym's drama that Rachel is tired of, but the toll it is taking on everyone, including Kym herself. Rachel just wants everyone to have some peace.

The other two moments consist of looks, each of which conveys so much. One is after Kym runs off and then returns, having had a huge fight with her mother. Rachel opens her door, takes one look at her sister and all the anger in her face just instantly falls away. As angry as Kym makes her, at her core Rachel will always be there to take care of her. The other look has a similar feel, it's a quick exchange between Rachel and Kym after their mother has flaked out at the reception. The look says it all: it is what it is, mom will never change. It's a look that is at once irritated and accepting of the situation and makes it clear that Rachel will always pick up the slack.

It's astonishing to me that a performance this good received so little attention, garnering a couple of critics awards but being passed over for all the major awards. It's a subtle and understated performance, yes, particulalry in comparison to that of Anne Hathaway, who plays Kym, but it's so good. If you missed it when it first came out, or haven't seen it since, give Rachel Getting Married a look; it - and all its performances - are worth revisiting.


thevoid99 said...

I too, wished Dewitt was nominated that year. In fact, I picked her for Best Supporting Actress that year as she really surprised me throughout the film. I liked her scenes with Anne Hathaway where they would spar and really act like sisters. It's one of those films I really enjoyed.

Anonymous said...

An understated genius performance. Just watched it again.