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Some Wild Wedding

Rachel Getting Married, Dir. Jonathan Demme, Now Playing

<i>Anne Hathaway, left, as Kym and Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel. © Sony Pictures Classics</i>
Anne Hathaway, left, as Kym and Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel. © Sony Pictures Classics

Weddings defy expectations. The grander the plan, the more likely it is that things will go awry. No amount of preparation can predict the telling ways in which people will manifest their sentiments. Rachel Getting Married is about the spectacle of getting married. The film presents a chaotic and loving weekend, even if love sometimes resembles hate. Director Jonathan Demme set out to make “the most beautiful home video ever made,” and in a way, he did. Its beauty lies in its ability to let things run amok. An affectionately planned wedding unravels into a dizzying display of strained family dynamics and bitter truths.

Weddings induce gushiness, but Demme blends sentimentality with stark awakening. Kym, the film’s main subject, is a recovering addict who returns home for the wedding weekend. Anne Hathaway (Kym) makes a radical transformation from her past roles as a dolled up princess into a vulnerable, vexing, and fragile young woman who struggles to overcome her past. The film takes place in a handsome old Colonial house. Years of habitation grant the house its own identity. The wide open rooms are filled with grand antique furnishings, soft, plush sitting arrangements, and a kitchen that brims with one-of-a-kind plates and a worn wooden cutting board. There is always something in disarray, evidence of a lived-in, beloved home. Meals are eaten at all hours; the radio plays in one room while violins play in another.  The walls are painted in vibrant colors and big bright windows face an expansive green lawn. It buzzes with activity as guests roam the grounds and form temporary enclaves. No one is spared the camera’s eye. It surveys the surroundings loosely, catching bits and pieces of the actors living out the setting. Scenes meander through the rooms and find people resting on couches, working on music, or cleaning the kitchen. The hours pass lazily in anticipation of the main event.

Rachel, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, quickly realizes the danger in having Kym at her wedding. Addicts in recovery are unpredictable. Rachel expects the worst, due to the many years spent dealing with Kym’s chronic self-abuse. Thrust among so many friends and relatives who opine how great a match Rachel and her future brother-in-law make, Kym feels like she’s drowning. Disdainful and sarcastic, Kym tugs hard on the weakest thread in a tangled web of blame. Her family hoped her problems were behind her but deep tensions remain. Memories that have haunted the family for years emerge. Rachel’s methodical, calm demeanor breaks easily around Kym. Her fiancé Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe, lead singer of the Brooklyn band TV On The Radio) remains relaxed and supportive, even while observing Rachel’s vicious, hateful feelings towards Kym. He provides a soothing respite to the scathing dialogue between the sisters.

Sidney embodies the center of a creative entourage of friends. They play instruments and tinker with various repetitive melodies that reside just outside the frame. The music provides an outlet to the family’s raw pain. It breathes comfort into the charged atmosphere and gradually takes on meaning. Melodious overtones correspond to the people they surround. What seems like spontaneous band practice actually proves Demme’s clever way to add a soundtrack to the film. The harmonies sound sad, anxious, or pleasing as the characters feel inconsolable, worried, or content.

The cast in Rachel Getting Married entertain each other with a rambling medley of speeches, impassioned musical performances, and embarrassing declarations. During scenes of dinners and performances, people dressed as wedding guests maneuver handheld digital cameras to hone in on rousing moments. These home-video-like shots provide a less direct way to divulge a character's idiosyncrasies. The scene flips from a grainy handheld viewpoint to a clearer, wide-angle. Heartfelt exchanges from the actors flow easily and avoid sounding like forced lines. Mistakes are made, cheeks blush deep red, and eyes shift from person to person. The camera may draw close to a face or the back of a head, blurring the edges to meditate on the aftermath of a comment or a surprising gesture. Filming discloses fleeting exchanges that may go unnoticed otherwise—it’s voyueristic and participatory.

Demme eschewed rehearsals and uses only diegetic sound for Rachel Getting Married. This informal quality creates a consistent narrative flow. The footage feels pieced together lovingly to display the best and worst parts of the wedding weekend.  The camera bounces behind a window, across the table, or may settle on the edge of a seat. The unpredictable positions parallel the ebb and flow of the unfolding story. The point of view slows briefly to narrow focus on a momentarily serious situation. Choppy edits also soften when the characters lay bare their honesty or pause for contemplation. Faces are most telling when the camera lingers on them for an uncomfortable amount of time. The viewer grows more attenuated to the realistic style as the complexity of the story develops.

Critics have pointed out the “political correctness” and “post-race multiculturalism” of the cast. They surely represent different ethnicities and draw upon varied cultural references, but perhaps Demme was not purposefully projecting an ideal. Maybe the diverse group of people are simply the ones who would love and support Rachel and Sidney getting married. The fact that the wedding takes place in a great big house in Connecticut and yet (gasp!) the majority of guests are not white should not be a point of contention. Rachel Getting Married inspires joy and reconciliation without passing judgement on the backgrounds of the characters. The film revolves around the healing and the troubling that the weakest member in a family can provoke.

Rachel Getting Married deals with how dysfunction can hurt and how it can charm.  The film’s underlying optimism is infectious. Jenny Lumet’s candid script, Declan Quinn’s thoughtful camerawork, and Demme’s assured direction render a sincere portrayal of unconditional love. The messy, hurtful, transforming kind of love that made me quiver with delight.


Camila de Onís

CAMILA DE ONIS is a Brooklyn-based writer who wants a dog like Lucy.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2008

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