I’ve never been married, but both of my sisters are…and while the mind’s memory always wants to reminisce about the fun, love, and joy that results with the nuptials, it tends to bury the familial conflicts that can surface during that special event. (I’ll remain mum about the “maid-of-honor” controversy at one of the weddings.) For dysfunctional clans, there can be ugliness and pain…and hopefully a bit of truth as well.
Such is the case with the Buchman family. Daughter Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is to be wed to musician Sidney Williams (Tunde Adebimpe), and the preparations for the celebration exude ebullience and exhilaration. However, Rachel’s sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) will also be in attendance on Rachel’s special day, having been granted permission from the rehab facility where she resides. From the moment she’s picked up by her father Paul (Bill Irwin) and stepmother Carol (Anna Deavere Smith), the audience is on an exit ramp to Tension City. (A stop at a convenience store results in a clerk asking Kym: “Hey! Didn’t I see you on Cops?”)
Kym’s history of being the black sheep has not been easy for the Buchmans. The actions of Paul, concerned about his daughter, are interpreted by Kym as distrust, and her mother Abby (Debra Winger) seems somewhat reserved at being reunited with Kym (all Abby can do is scold her for smoking a cigarette). The true stress is between Rachel and Kym; Rachel—despite her love for her sister—resents the attention that her sister’s return has generated, which comes to a head at the rehearsal dinner…when Kym decides to combine her toast to the happy couple with an attempt to make amends for her past stumbles as part of her 12-step program.
The Buchman wedding threatens to explode in excruciating misery and torment when memories of an incident that affected the entire family—again, the result of Kym’s inexcusable behavior—is resurrected from the past. And yet…the matrimonial event will instead result in a cleansing introspection; maybe no one can hurt you quite like family…but no one can destroy the bond between sisters, either.
I mentioned Rachel Getting Married (2008) in passing in a recent post covering a few documentaries that I sat down to watch in July…but it was Facebook compadre Stephen Winer who nudged me into watching the film, remarking “If you like Jonathan Demme, you should like Rachel Getting Married. It has some of the feel of his early films.” Done, sold, Bob’s your uncle, as they say—Jonathan Demme (who left this world for a better one in April of last year—a passing that filled me with much sadness) is one of my favorites, and as such I enjoyed Rachel from start to finish.
Before The Silence of the Lambs (1991) won him a Best Director Academy Award (the film also won Best Picture, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay), Jonathan Demme enjoyed a reputation for offbeat, entertaining films that began when he worked for “The Pope of Pop Cinema,” Roger Corman, for New World Pictures back in the 1970s. Demme’s directorial efforts at that company included Caged Heat (1974—still one of the best in the “chicks-in-chains” genre) and Crazy Mama (1975), then he later garnered critical acclaim for movies like Citizens’ Band (1977; a.k.a. Handle With Care—a box office disappointment…and a movie I would dearly love to see get a DVD release) and Melvin and Howard (1980). Jonathan’s eclecticism continued in the 1980s with the likes of Stop Making Sense (1984), Swimming to Cambodia (1987), and Married to the Mob (1988).
Truth be told, I kind of soured on Demme after Lambs (though I did like a few of his documentaries, notably the one on his cousin the Reverend Robert Castle [1992’s Cousin Bobby], who has a bit part in Rachel as the clergyman officiating at the wedding) in the same manner as I did Robert Zemeckis once he won his Oscar for Forrest Gump (1994). Demme’s films had lost their entertaining quirkiness and became far too conventional (I still haven’t forgiven him for the 2004 Manchurian Candidate remake). But Stephen’s assessment of Rachel Getting Married was spot-on—it is a return to Demme’s earlier efforts, and I kind of chuckled when I read Owen Gleiberman’s take that Rachel was Jonathan’s “finest work since The Silence of the Lambs.”
Jenny Lumet—daughter of director Sidney—penned an incredible screenplay filled with some of the most engaging characters I’ve ever witnessed in a motion picture. They’re flesh-and-blood human beings, fully possessing the flaws and frailties of us all, and yet the honesty they continually display persuades us to remain in their corner from the opening credits of the film. There’s no two ways about it: Kym Buchman is an irresponsible pain in the ass—she reminds me of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Sherry in Sherrybaby (2006)—and an individual whose high maintenance would be a full-time job, but when she develops feelings for the best man (Mather Zickel), you can’t help but wonder if the two of them could make it work (it helps that he’s a recovering addict as well).
Anne Hathaway’s performance as Kym is a treasure (I guess it won’t be revealing too much to say I have a new favorite Hathaway film…this from someone who’s just never warmed up to her), and deservedly received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress; the scene where she reveals at her “meeting” the negligence that shattered the family is impossible not to puddle up at, but I also ached at her unsuccessful attempts to reconcile with Debra Winger’s Abby after the two of them have a disturbing confrontation concerning that past event. However, if I’m under oath, I’ll have to admit that I enjoyed Rosemary DeWitt’s turn as Rachel a bit more. DeWitt gets overshadowed by Hathaway (who, admittedly, has the showier role) but I marveled at how she was able to modulate her performance so that while the pain and resentment for her sister are palpably real, the love she feels for her sibling is equally genuine (beautifully expressed in the scene when Kym returns home after a mishap with the car).
The supporting cast is excellent, notably Irwin and Winger as the parents. Rachel Getting Married leavens its seriousness with wonderful flashes of humor, never better showcased than in a scene where Irwin challenges his would-be son-in-law to a contest where the victor must effectively stack dishes in a dishwasher. I only wish Charles Napier and Tracey Walter had been approached to appear in Rachel (it doesn’t seem like a Demme film without them); but Jonathan’s old boss Roger Corman can be spotted among the wedding guests as well as Sister Carol East (who’s in Demme’s Something Wild and Married to the Mob)—she’s fittingly one of the “wedding singers.” I recorded Rachel on a DVD-R disc sometime back (I think it was playing on HBO) but I was able to download it from that brief Starz On Demand freeview because I know hunting down the disc would still be in progress.