Sunday, January 18, 2009

Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married


Want to spend an afternoon at a wedding? Want to watch a documentary? Want to attend an AA meeting? Want to meet quite the kooky family? Well you're in luck, Johnathann Demme's Rachel Getting Married lets you do all those things. This oscar touted film is quite a piece of work. Put simply - if you aren't interested in character studies, if you don't like theatre, or if you want fast moving plot: then Rachel Getting Married is not for you. Thankfully, I love all those things and found this film quite a treat. In a year where we have Doubt and Frost/Nixon (both adapted from Broadwy plays), it seems that Rachel Getting Married fits rght into that niche - I smell a version for the stage in the future.

The basic story of the film (and it is basic) is that Rachel is getting married. Her sister Kym is coming out of rehab especially for the event -- and things do not run so smoothly. There you have it. I don't want to go into specifics because I think part of the fun of the film is to see why these people have turned into what we see today. There are couple of twists to be had.

To talk about this film, one must highlight the performances. In the leading role of the troubled Kym is Anne Hathawy, who has finely transitioned from a princess with a diary to this venom spitting druggie. This is certainly a career changing performance for Anne, because I think it will solidify her in the ranks of a "true actress" (whatever that means). Kym is a tricky role. On the outset there is not much to like about Kym. She is an addict. She thinks the world revolves around her. She is too self-centered. She is rude, crude, and a bitch. However the remarkable part of Hathaway's performance is, over the two hours, she makes you KNOW why Kym is the way she is. And in the end - you do feel for the character - as if she was the blak sheep of your own family.

Rachel, the title role; that of the sister getting married, is played to perfection by RoseMarie DeWitt. One could even say this is the performance of the film (more on that in a minute). Rachel is about to be a psychiatrist (which is funny within itself considering the families constant struggle). She is for sure mommy's favorite and a strong contender for daddies little girl. However, we soon see that Rachel has always been pushed to the side by Kym's antics. She was never in the spotlight - because she was seemingly overlooked for being so perfect. And now that she is getting married, she tries her hardest through the 3 days we have with the family, to put the focus on her wedding .. her day. However Kym seems determined to squash that. DeWitt shows a cool confidence throughout. I have never seen her in a film before, and I certainly hope to see more of her soon.

We also have a various castof characters milling around. There's Paul, Kym and Rachels father (played with charm and heatbreak by Bill Irwin), there's his new wife Carol (Anna Devere Smith), there's Rachels fiance Sidney (the sweet as pie Tunde Adibimpe), his family and friends (which SADLY includes American Idol season 1 loser Tamyra Gray in a 30 second singing spot .. which took me completely out of the film .. because I hated her), theres the best man who is also an addict and forms a relationship with Kym .. and then there's Mom. Debra Winger plays Abby - Kym and Rachel's mother. Although her name is mentioned on the poster - she has the least ammount of screen time out of all of the others mentioned, however she makes the most impact. Winger is considered a respected actress in the industry, however he has taken many long breaks between films (so much so that there was a documentary made called: Searching for Debra Winger), but she is back in a big way. Winger's Abby is all at once sweetness and light, venom spouting, cruel, quiet and calculating, loving, hating, and violent. So in the end: a bit of Rachel, a bit of Kym. I will not go into detail of the scene, however there is a scene between Winger and Hathaway which had my heart beating out of its chest. It was a true acting showdown. Amazing stuff. Winger does an amazing job of taking about 3 scenes and stealing the film from the others. But with class.

The cast as an ensemble is great. You really feel that these people are related. And because of the documentary style film making, you honestly feel that you are at this wedding. Some scenes go on too long .. way too long. For example, at the rehearsal dinner you sit through speech after speech by guests from the family, the bride's best friend, the band, etc etc. The speeches go on forever, until the fantastic moment when Kym stands to give what may go down in history as the most awkward toast ever (this is Hathaway's most masterful moment as well). But I think you HAVE to sit through these speeches, because if you were at the wedding, you would have to sit though them there. It may not be entertaining, or even interesting, but I think it was essential to make the film work. You may also feel this way again during the reception party (which is quite wacky) that seems to go on and on and on without dialogue. But, again, its as if youre walking through the party itself. Overall I loved this style, even if it elongated the movie by about 30 minutes or more.

This is a film about family and about love, in the end. What I loved most is that Rachel is getting married to an African man - and there is no "race" issues involved.. no one mentions it. I liked that - and think it says a lot as far as how far we have grown as people. It would have been a bit stereotypical to have the one family member who is racist .. thankfully it didn't go down that road. And honestly, it didn't need too: Rachel, Kim, Abby, and Paul have enough troubles of their own.

I would recommend this film highly. I don't know if everyone would enjoy it as much as I did, but I truly think it is a unique indie film with fantastic acting that shouldn't be missed.

****1/2 out of ****

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