Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Archive: 'Rachel Getting Married'

Movie Review
Rachel Getting Married (2008)

At the center of "Rachel Getting Married" is indeed a wedding and a very elaborate and multicultural one at that. While the wedding is for Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), the movie isn't about her, but rather her sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway), and as much as it kills Kym, she is not the center of attention. She remains out of focus during the movie as she's on the sidelines observing. The visual style of cinematographer Declan Quinn here is something intimately up-close yet off-balance. There are creative angles and camera shots that veer in and out of groups of people, sometimes cutting right in between them. It's a strategy that gives viewers the feeling of actually being a part of the wedding, especially during a rehearsal dinner scene where we feel strangely connected to these people's toasts and conversations. This scene prolongs itself to give a sense of realism where one microscopic moment of interaction can stir up so much drama. We understand and can relate to everybody's exchanges of warmth or awkward embarrassment.

And that's the triumph of director Jonathan Demme's latest film, who also directed 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs." So many people populate the screen at once, and we're not formally introduced to any one person in particular but simply observe them individually and draw our own conclusions through their encounters. The group of family and friends is extremely diverse, as well, and yet the movie doesn't make this a focus of the drama, and so there's no use identifying characters by race. Rachel is marrying a man named Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe, lead singer of TV on the Radio), and he is only one of many guests staying in the family's large country home in Connecticut. Rachel and Kym's father (Paul Irwin) is divorced from their mother (Debra Winger) and has remarried to another woman who never says a word but is always present (Anna Deavere Smith). And then Kym returns from rehab as walking disaster who has an immense effect on her family.

The person you would least expect to tackle the role of a recovering drug junkie with black, razor-cut hair and a paranoid stare that radiates pain, desperation, and self-loathing ends up being a perfect fit. Anne Hathaway dives deep within herself to draw out an unnervingly effective performance that's worthy of recognition and bound to be remembered. In a weekend that's meant to be about her sister bride, Hathaway's Kym has an irksome narcissism that proves to be fully distracting. She is haunted by not only her haphazard recovery process but also something of her past that affects her entire family. It was her addiction that caused the accidental death of her younger brother, Ethan, a sensitive subject that still brings about tears. There's a most devastating scene between Kym and her mother who she lovingly admires, a scene so electric and mortifying that it leaves a lump in your throat.

The success of Demme's film is also in no small part thanks to Jenny Lumet, daughter of Sidney Lumet. As a first-time writer, her original screenplay contains a vast range of emotions and is fully resonant with vibrancy and life. There's a purposely unstable mixture of moods that creates something lifelike and relatable. "Rachel Getting Married" is a movie that is deeply sad while at the same time uplifting. It's a small movie but such a greatly modest effort and very authentic, especially in observing Hathaway's performance. It may feel a little overlong at times, but that's only to make the experience of the wedding feel all the more dense, full, and complete. Like Rachel's sister, nothing about her wedding is neat, tidy, or predictable.

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