Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married

By Matthew Huntley

October 8, 2008

Happy now? (Private joke, sorry.)

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Kym's sadness stems from the tremendous guilt she feels for an unfortunate accident that happened years ago. Demme and Lumet supply us hints of the tragedy until it's finally spoken literally. The scene when Kym tells her support group what happened is tough and brutally honest, and Demme never seems to go for cheap effect. He even allows his extras to react sincerely to the situation.

Given this film's subject matter, we expect the usual mechanics of a Hollywood drama to eventually kick in. We expect Kym to start using drugs again because she can't handle the pressure of what's going on around her; we expect there to be racial remarks because Rachel is marrying a black man; we expect Kym to take it personally that everybody is always asking her to put out her cigarettes; we expect Kym and her family to give each other the silent treatment after they argue; we expect the people at Kym's meetings to be a motley crew of colorful characters who lead her towards an epiphany.

The film doesn't even come close to playing things out according to our expectations. But it also doesn't avoid conventions simply for the sake of avoiding conventions; it is truly smart and intelligent, which is refreshing. The subject matter is serious and harsh, but Demme respects his audience enough not to offer easy answers. To complement the directing style, cinematographer Declan Quinn shoots the film hand-held and resists the urge to make it look pretty, even though there are plenty of opportunities.


For a film like this to work, the performances must be in sync with the direction, and it doesn't look like anybody in this film is acting. Much of it feels improvised and natural. Anne Hathaway, as she proved in "Brokeback Mountain," has become an important actress who's willing to downplay dramatic roles for the sake of authenticity. Here, she does just that and we believe her every step of the way. In the end, it will be she who gets most of the attention, specifically for the way she allows herself to look distraught and slovenly, but the other actors are just as convincing, especially Bill Irwin and Rosemarie DeWitt. Together, they convince us they really are a family.

Rachel Getting Married isn't the easiest or most pleasant film to watch, but it is highly effective, with heartfelt and raw emotion. I loved the boldness and frankness of the ending, which is both happy and sad, but ultimately hopeful. It comes after one of the film's most indelible scenes, when Kym asks her real mother (Debra Winger) why she trusted her when she was using drugs, which indirectly led to the aforementioned tragedy. What happens after will change their lives forever, but it's not something they can't overcome. It will be, for Kym, another moment when she feels like she hates her family. But, as we see the very next day, she feels the urge to go back and love them again for no other reason than because it's her family, and that's what families do.

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