Rachel Getting Married

Dir: Jonathan Demme, 2008. Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith, Debra Winger. Drama.
Rachel Getting Married

So, I'll go ahead and use a fussy distinction, and call Jonathan Demme's film cinema direct, rather than cinema verite, since it calls more attention to its subject than itself. It's grueling enough to deserve the three accent marks, however. Unlike the use of the shaky-cam in Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, Demme and his cinematographer, Declan Quinn, always keep the camera in the objective, 3rd-person tense. They also, thankfully, keep it more transparent than Paul Greengrass's more navel-gazing camera eye. While moving room to room, the audience floats along, but when the wedding party guests are talking, the filmmakers fix the shot, remembering that modern cameras can re-focus on stuff in the background without having to move. Whatever you call it, Rachel Getting Married is realism at its squirm-inducing most direct.

Jenny Lumet's script rarely hits a wrong note in analyzing a particular bourgeois Connecticut family's power struggles that are inherent to most families. Whereas my family get-togethers center on frito-pie and football, Rachel's wedding involves Indian attire and cuisine with Robyn Hitchcock and Cyro Baptista supplying the entertainment. All attention is being paid to Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) until her younger sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway), shows up with a weekend pass from court-mandated rehab. What follows is the gentrified version of the Electra Complex. The sisters compete for attention from Dad (Bill Irwin) using what they have: Rachel is the perfect daughter with some undefined perfect job, perfect friends (successful musicians and writers) and a perfect fiance, whereas Kym is the classic second-child fuckup, with drug addiction being her calling card.

As with the thespian drug addicts in Hollywood who regularly meet at a little cafe on Vine, just South of Sunset Blvd., Kym's addiction isn't so much a cry for help as an egotistic need to be noticed. Hers is the kind of bottoming out that leads to a memoir featured on Oprah or as a writer of forgettable sitcoms – i.e., dependency as a privilege of the leisure class. Her sister isn't any less egocentric or any more likable. Just as Kym is trying to get the family to acknowledge the way they all play into her addiction, Rachel interrupts with the announcement that she's going to have a baby. Score one for Sis, and the cycle repeats. Mom (Debra Winger) got sick of their crap some time ago and left to live her own life; the flower of Narcissus has roots, after all. And Dad's so castrated that he's always on the verge of singing, "mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey."

The squeamishness comes from the way the mise-en-scene makes you one of the guests, eavesdropping on conversations that you shouldn't be hearing. As with real weddings, you're sometimes placed at the center of attention in one scene, only to recede into the background in another. Sitting through a friend's wedding is bad enough, but two hours at a stranger's is debilitating. And Demme's film is so formally precise that you really feel like you're there. After twenty minutes of family friends talking about the bride and groom at the rehearsal dinner, I felt like covering my eyes when Kym brings attention back to herself by bringing up her drugged exploits in a 5 minute toast to her sister. It's not as uncomfortable as Capturing the Friedmans, but I don't plan on ever sitting through either film again. That’s some good film making.

In scene after scene, the family refuses to properly address a past tragedy that structures many of its current crises, but the familial dynamic is never simply reduced to the tragedy. This is an excellent character study, even if I don't see much of a point to realistic character studies. Life itself already has enough pointless empathy without aesthetic realism giving us more. Anyway, kudos to the filmmakers for creating pitch-perfect, quotidian misery.

Posted by:
Charles Reece
May 12, 2009 4:53pm
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