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"Wandering aimlessly, it immerses the viewer in a never-ending series of song and dance, wedding toasts, and family feuds."
 
"Using countless handheld shots and elongated scenes to show every participant at every angle, the film maintains a loose, documentary style, but without cohesion or singular thought."
"The film disappoints because of an overall lack of editing and condensing of the story."
Rachel Getting Married  

Cast

Kym: Anne Hathaway
Rachel: Rosemarie DeWitt
Abby: Debra Winger
Paul: Bill Irwin
Carol: Anna Deavere Smith
Review January 2009

Weddings are often fantasized and idealized, with expectations higher than high. So much so, that in the midst of preparations, chaos may rear its ugly head. Such is the case with "Rachel Getting Married," a story that centers on Kym Buchman, heading back to her parent's house in Connecticut for her sister's wedding. Fresh out of rehab, she brings with her a baggage of addictions, personal problems, and tragedies that threaten the very core of the family dynamic, not to mention the wedding itself. Under the direction of Jonathan Demme, best known for his meticulous character studies in "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia," "Rachel Getting Married" attempts to delve into the relationship between the two sisters and their seesaw battle for sanity and meaning. But unlike Demme's predecessors, the film meanders. Wandering aimlessly, it immerses the viewer in a never-ending series of song and dance, wedding toasts, and family feuds that mimic the selfish annoyances and pains of real family life.

Floating in and out of drug rehab for the last 10 years, Kym Buchman is given a short reprieve - a one day release to attend her sister, Rachel's wedding. She is picked up by Paul and Carol, her father and mother-in-law, who kindly take her back to their house. The same Connecticut estate where she grew up, filled with childhood memories and heirlooms. And the home of the wedding, which will soon welcome numerous guests, artists, and a bevy of classical and contemporary musicians, many of whom have already gathered in the backyard for rehearsal.

Always perceived as a problem child, Kym is a walking disaster, bringing trouble wherever she goes. Upon her arrival, she is warmly welcomed by her sister and introduced to close friends, including Sidney, Rachel's groom. But the formalities soon fade. As friends and family gather for the memorable event, Kym slowly begins to self-destruct. And in a sarcastic bit of foreshadowing, she announces during the rehearsal dinner, "I am Shiva the destroyer, your harbinger of doom this evening." With good intentions, Kym's father tries to keep things under control. But hour-by-hour, everything unravels - through Kym's openness about rehab, a reflection on the death of their baby brother, and the arrival of Kym's mother, Abby. All seem to rock the family core, threatening to turn a happy celebration into a nightmarish disaster.

Director Jonathan Demme has always flourished in his study of psychology and human behavior. Especially when he involves his characters in the experiment, through careful observation and analysis. And toying with perceptions inside and out. For instance, in "The Silence of the Lambs," FBI agent Clarice Starling has to play a series of mind games to win the trust of psychiatrist and serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, in an effort to find a missing girl. In "Philadelphia," perceptions, behaviors, and attitudes are turned against Andrew Becket upon the discovery that he has contracted AIDS. And similarly, but on a smaller scale, in "Rachel Getting Married," we become privy to Kym's inner demons while witnessing her behavior externally on others.

Yet, unlike previous works by Demme, "Rachel Getting Married" gets bogged down in the social part of the experiment. Using countless handheld shots and elongated scenes to show every participant at every angle, the film maintains a loose, documentary style, but without cohesion or singular thought. In one of the opening sequences, the camera follows Kym through the Buchman home, down hallways, upstairs, in and out of different rooms, while a group of musicians plays outside. Nothing happens on this journey. The scene is just there.

And it begs the question: How is it that we don't see characters going to the bathroom, taking off their makeup, or brushing their teeth very often in film? It's because those activities are considered mundane, ritualistic, and unnecessary in moving the plot forward. In "Rachel Getting Married," we don't see a lot of those things, but we do feel like we've seen too much. Every ounce. Every detail. At dinner, we are exposed to every person's toast. At the reception, we hear every single song and watch every person dance. And while it gives audiences a sense of the scope and diversity of the gathering, it does nothing for the story. Rather than focus on Kym's struggle, the film gets distracted like a delirious home video of a family reunion.

These distractions are noticeably disappointing because they interfere with the leading performances. Namely, the sister-to-sister relationship between Kym and Rachel. As a character with a guilty conscience, a sense of nostalgia, and unresolved sadness, Anne Hathaway delivers some noteworthy scenes, desperately trying to get attention when others turn away. And Rosemarie DeWitt is perfectly complementary, loving when no one else will, competing for attention when Kym takes it away, and vocalizing her displeasure over her sister's selfishness. Even Bill Irwin shows the tender moments of a loving father torn between his two girls while trying to graciously play host.

Much of that is lost in the mix, making "Rachel Getting Married" a very difficult movie to watch. Along with the queasiness of hand held cinematography, the film disappoints because of an overall lack of editing and condensing of the story. Scenes linger and loiter past their welcome, music plays on agonizingly, and listening to characters bicker, whine, and sulk all movie long is not a constructive way to spend two hours. Many of us know someone like Kym, a person who has to be the center of attention, no matter the event or circumstance. And it's amazing how those feelings can quickly move from warmth and empathy to annoyance and embarrassment to utter disdain.



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