Monday, November 17, 2008

Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married

Grade: A-

Rachel Getting Married is part of an increasingly prevalent genre: the dysfunctional family movie. Between Margot at the Wedding, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Celebration, and The Family Stone, it's easy to think you've already seen this movie. But despite the similar plot, this is not Kym at the Wedding. Tonally different from the others (except perhaps The Celebration), the movie escapes that other ubiquitous label: the quirky indie. With one of the most realistic families to appear recently onscreen, there's nothing "quirky" about it.

The movie starts with Kym (Anne Hathaway) getting out of rehab to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). Kym takes the time home as an opportunity to make amends from her junkie days, specifically in a very public wedding rehearsal dinner toast. Being home brings up all the resentments between the sisters, as Kym wants more attention and Rachel wants to get the spotlight on her wedding day. Their dad, Paul (Bill Irwin), struggles to keep them safe and happy. And Rachel's
fiancé, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), is black, a fact never mentioned and yet still relevant (I assume his name refers to Poitier and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, as here Kym is more the outcast than a black suitor).

As the movie goes on, its authenticity makes you feel like part of the wedding. This comes partially from the shooting style. Hand-held, shaky camera techniques may be overused, but here they provide a home movie quality that brings us right into the festivities. While the shooting helps, the authenticity primarily comes from the characters. Director Jonathan Demme (doing his best work since Philadelphia and Silence of the Lambs) and screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) have created such three-dimensional, believable characters that just watching them act normal is compelling. When Sidney challenges Paul to a contest of who can fill the dishwasher the fastest, it seems like something that would happen before a real wedding. Even the more dramatic moments feel realistic. Whether it's Rachel wanting a day that's not about Kym or Kym feeling excluded at her own sister's event, it is all completely relatable. With most wedding movies relying on silly hijinks, this one feels fresh for keeping its feet planted in reality.

The realism is also aided by the incredibly strong performances throughout the cast. Anne Hathaway stands out most for going so against type and creating such a unique yet believable character. Hathaway keeps Kym's vulnerability visible even as she laughs off her past and makes even Rachel think she doesn't care. Rosemarie DeWitt also deserves praise for taking the thankless part of the "normal" sister and making her special enough to give Kym and Rachel's conflict its bite. Debra Winger, as their distant mother, has a small but significant part. But the actor who surprised me the most was Bill Irwin as Paul. As the mediator between Kym and Rachel, Irwin shows how hard Paul tries to keep them both happy even as they turn against him. Harder still, he gives a real sense of how long they have related this way just through his expression.

By the midpoint of the movie, any early dark humor has dropped away for something much more serious. But by that point, the movie had won me over enough to accept any twists about their past. As Kym struggles with guilt for the harm she has caused, the movie could easily turn melodramatic and overemotional. The movie's strength is that it doesn't. The past revelations just further deepen the relationships we've seen. I'm not usually someone who goes for movies with lots of crying and talking about feelings. But the characters are all so well-developed that it's all worth it.

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