DVD Release Date:  March 10, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  November 7, 2008
Rating:  R (for strong language and sexual content)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  113 min.
Director:  Jonathan Demme
Cast:  Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Debra Winger, Anna Deavere Smith, Anisa George, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel

There are few faults with Rachel Getting Married, but two of them you should know up front (though they have little to do with the actual movie):  its title is vaguely misleading and the TV ads are borderline deceptive.  Based on those alone, one might assume this is a feel-good dramedy with an indie vibe.  It’s not, by a long shot, so don’t let false expectations spoil what is, in truth, one of the most intense depictions of familial conflict since Ordinary People.

Set in the confines of a weekend wedding, Rachel Getting Married is a searing portrait of dysfunction and addiction (and how one begets the other), yet it never flashes back to past traumas or depicts actual drug use.  Rather, we witness the destructive fruit that tragedy and addiction bear, both personally and relationally.  It is a frank and confrontational depiction that may offend, but this integrity to truth is vital.  People who hope to overcome their addictions must face them honestly, and so too must a film that grapples with the same issues and their causes.

Kym Buchman (Anne Hathaway) is the black sheep, and she comes to her sister Rachel’s wedding straight from rehab.  A junkie since her teen years, Kym has brought mostly grief to a family that has endured much, including a divorce.  A narcissist with a flair for the dramatic, Kym thrives by creating drama wherever she goes.  It’s more habitual than willful at this point, so she ends up causing problems even when she’s trying not to.

Rachel, on the other hand, is the complete opposite.  Fun, stable, and pursuing a career in psychology, Rachel has been the family’s rock.  She always makes good decisions even as Kym’s ego and instability cause her to make bad ones.  Their parents unwittingly contribute to Kym’s problems with their own neuroses (the dad enables and excuses while the mom represses).

Try as she might, Rachel’s patience is never rewarded as Kym’s old dysfunctional habits die hard.  Indeed, they come to life at the most awkward times and then feed on themselves as they threaten to destroy the entire weekend.

The power of Jenny Lumet’s screenplay and Jonathan Demme’s direction is that everything is character-driven, evolving from the organic interchange and psychological stasis of these individuals and their pasts, not plot-driven to where they’re merely caricatured pawns in situational conflicts that Lumet has manufactured.

In fact, much of the film’s first act involves little overt conflict; instead, surface exchanges are loaded with subtext, psychosis, and unspoken histories.  Slowly, hints of friction emerge as emotional explosions are kept (mostly) at bay.  But eventually it all comes to a head in a “cover-your-eyes” moment of discomforting tension when Kym toasts Rachel at the pre-wedding dinner.  Issues are finally brought out in the open as things only get worse before they get, well, not exactly better. 

Demme (an Oscar-winner for The Silence of the Lambs) edits hand-held digital video in a mix of jump cuts and extended takes, creating a raw aesthetic perfectly suited for the material.  It all flows with a loose naturalism, yet Demme is clearly directing everything toward a specific tone and purpose.  It’s rather telling that while he avoids cinematic tricks or polish, Demme nevertheless creates palpable stress and drama.  This movie isn’t going to win any technical awards, but man, you feel it.

As the drug-addled/guilt-ridden Kym, Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada) takes her career to another level.  Often stilted in the past, Hathaway invests herself here with abandon.  It’s not a perfect performance as the dramatics feel a little too self-conscious at times, but Hathaway displays great range and depth.  Even better is Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men, Season 1) as Rachel.  DeWitt shifts seamlessly between emotions, often on a dime, yet every moment feels fresh and spontaneous.  There are other strong supporting turns, too, but Hathaway and DeWitt are the core.  Both could be looking at Oscar nominations.

Like Hathaway, the film overall is impressive though not perfect.  The drama does feel contrived at times, and it occasionally dispenses of consequences a bit too conveniently (a rushed resolution to a car crash comes to mind).  But this is a minor critique as even the contrived moments are realized with an unflinching realism. 

Its themes are honest, too, showing that we must take ownership of and responsibility for our addictions, guilt, and past sins.  It’s natural to want the approval, grace and forgiveness of others (and even helpful), but those must be viewed simply as gifts and not expectations.  Kym finally begins to realize this important distinction (if only intuitively), providing a poignant hope to the end of a necessarily wrenching journey.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Alcohol is consumed at a wedding, people become tipsy and slightly drunk.  Not overly excessive.
  • Language/Profanity:  The normal array of R-rated language peppered throughout, though not constant.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A brief moment of sexual intercourse, seen from a distance.  The individuals are mostly clothed, but it is an abrupt/explicit moment.
  • Violence/Other:  There are physical altercations inherent to the situations of the movie, but nothing graphic or violent.



Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla.  He is also cohost of the "Steelehouse Podcast,” along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture. 

To listen to the weekly podcast, please visit www.steelehouse.com or click here.  You can also subscribe to the "Steelehouse Podcast” through iTunes.