What’s refreshing about Jenny Lumet’s screenplay is how none of the conflicts are neatly wrapped up by the end of this nearly two-hour drama. Director Jonathan Demme has the camera act as a silent person, silently glued to Kim (Anne Hathaway) as she leaves rehab from a none-month stay for drug addiction and return to her large family home where she attends sister Rachel’s wedding to Sidney.
Right from the star, Kym spews acidic criticisms towards fellow patients as well as family and friends, and no matter how often she ignites little nuclear bombs during the days leading up to the wedding ceremony (which includes trashing dad’s car), she goes to her meetings and is clearly trying to change her life – relying on the support from fellow addicts and counsellors in group meetings, as well as a largely silent bonding with best man Kieran (Mather Zickel), Sidney’s best man.
Her determination to succeed sober, as well as force a dialogue between her fidgety father (Bill Irwin), sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), and mother Abby (Debra Winger) is what propels the drama, because her own quest is what forces the family to acknowledge a terrible family tragedy, and created a decade-long blame game, as well as her own downward spiral before deciding enough was enough.
As a film, Rachel Getting Married is too long; Demme focuses too much on the banal wedding nuances of the family reception dinner (the speeches, the music performances, more speeches), as well as pockets of the wedding day (more speeches, and a lengthy music/dance montage).
The tactic does bring us into the drama like a distant and respectful family member, but Demme’s technique seems to stem from two camps: a docu-drama editing style that reduces stages of Kym’s weekend to morsels, sound-bites and fragments; and taking a nod from Fellini by having Kym be the figure that wanders through the jovial chaos of a celebratory caravan – reversing the ‘life’s a party’ tone of Variety Lights (1950) or La Dolce Vita (1960) to an emotional nightmare.
The editing does knock down the touchy-feely stages of a wedding (and is nicely contrasted by periodic cross-cuts to Kim feeling like utter crap amid all the affectionate tributes at the pre-wedding dinner), but some scenes drag and literally make the viewer feel like a guest who’s ready to sneak away when the right opportunity comes.
The Oscar buzz surrounding Hathaway’s nomination as Best Actress has probably instilled some heavy expectations, and there’s an immediate hunger for the Big Scene that grabbed the Academy’s attention, but it’s probably a quiet scene that earned her the Oscar nod: Kym sits with her immediate family – divorced father, stepmother, sister, brother-in-law – and says everything no one wants to hear.
It’s uncomfortable to watch because there’s a whole collage of dynamics at work: the younger sister trying to avoid a blame ambush by a group irritated by her presence; the group’s naked disappointment and low expectations of Kim; and Rachel desperately wanting her wedding day to be the event that returns some normalcy to her life.
That need is genuinely earnest, and Rachel never becomes a Bridezilla; she wants to have her sister back – the close confidante from childhood, from the pre-tragedy years – and wants the event to signal fresh starts for herself and Kim.
What’s surprising is the only pivotal scene that doesn’t quite work is Kym confronting mother Abby about the tragedy. The emotional eruption and physical violence kind of clips off the dialogue we really should’ve heard to the end, but the scene is vital to understanding Abby’s deliberate decision to separate herself from her family; the tragedy was too traumatic, and staying arm’s length from her daughters and ex-husband ensures she doesn’t have to return to the memories and disappointments of that long-gone life.
Neither Lumet nor Demme set up hints of any healing between Kym and Abby, but one gets a sense time, and Kym’s innately rebellious style, will perhaps open a fresh dialogue towards some tenuous reconciliation.
Rachel Getting Married comes to DVD with a lot of hype and expectations, and it might prove to be underwhelming, if not ponderous, for some, but it’s a refreshing drama from a director always playing with film techniques from differing genres, and the indie style of this crisp High-Def production gives the film some tactile grit.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan