random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Sunday, August 16, 2009

REEL REVIEW: Rachel Getting Married (2008) ***1/2

Rachel Getting Married (2008) poster

written by: Jenny Lumet
Produced by: Jonathan Demme, Neda Armian, & Marc E. Platt
directed by: Jonathan Demme
rated R (for language and brief sexuality. )
114 min.
Watching "Rachel Getting Married" is to attend her wedding. You literally feel like a fly, buzzing from wall to wall as you take everything from the preparation to the post wedding cool down. Disregarding any formulaic conventions, here is an intoxicating drama that is truthful, painful, humorous and genuine.

Recently on leave from rehab to attend her sister's wedding, self-absorbed narcissist Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns to her well-off Connecticut family for a few days. It's hard enough for a recovering addict to return home, but thrust into the chaos of a weekend wedding ceremony, everything and everyone is especially heightened. At first, the sisters show genuine endearment for each another. While Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) does her best to accept Kym for who she is, it is obvious there is tension in their relationship. Their father Paul (Bill Irwin) does not know how to act around Kym other than to dote or walk on eggshells. It's an awkward situation all around, especially for Paul's wife, Carol (Anna Deveare Smith) who doesn't seem to have a respected voice in the family despite being the rock for Paul over the years. The girls' relationship with their estranged mother (Debra Winger) is also an added stressor, portrayed as awkward, at best, throughout the film. As the camera walks us through each room of the house, we meet new friends and family that will take part in the wedding but we also can't help wonder when the next emotional eruption will occur. Looming over all of the them like the elephant in the house, is the family's past tragedy that occurred many years previously, for which Kym is responsible.

Without really knowing any other way and unable to deal with the spotlight on someone else, Kym adds tension to what would ideally be a time of celebration. Demme is careful not to portray Kym as the problem adult-child, or as a one-dimensional thorn in everyone's side. She may not know what to do in such a critical moment in her life but we at least see her try. As we see her deal with her demons, she is also devastated that Rachel has chosen someone else as her maid of honor and tries to maintain her local rehab meetings over the weekend. Unfortunately, for everyone, she comes across as narcissistic, vomiting raw emotion hardly anyone can understand. Needless to say, this leaves Rachel an emotional wreck during what should be the most important day of her life.

Not since "The Godfather" have we seen such a realistic depiction of what people do and say at a wedding, not to mention how they act. Like that Coppola classic, the wedding itself takes place at the family's house which becomes a character in and of itself. Several interesting supporting characters are introduced as either friends or family of the bride and groom. All come across as real people, far from the typical catty bridesmaids or frat brother groomsmen we so often see in rom-coms. These characters are unarguably genuine, especially Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), the gentle and talented groom who sings Neil Young's Unknown Legend as his wedding vow. Kieran (Mather Zinkel), is his best man, who who has also been in rehab but is now clean. Ironically, Kym finds Kieran in the same local rehab meeting even before she finds out his "best man" status. Both men are seen as quite, patient support systems for the sisters of growing contention.

Many of these supporting cast members form the band that compose the soundtrack of the film which becomes yet another integral character. Demme gathers a community of ragtag musicians and artists (like
Robyn Hitchcock and Fab 5 Freddy) and lets them saunter throughout the house, rehearsing for the wedding. They are left to interact and exist with the main characters in a rare and natural style, the likes of which are rarely seen on film.

Hathaway earns her Oscar nomination but the more challenging role went to DeWitt as Rachel. She has so much more to do. She's the bride going through all the commotion of a wedding weekend while at the same time she is challenging with her feelings toward Kym. She wants Kym to feel involved, loved, but Kym doesn't make it easy. We've seen addicts before but so seldom do we see a sibling struggle with how to be their for someone she loves without losing their mind. In the role of Rachel, DeWitt is more memorable and impressive.

There have been several complaints about the HD handheld camera that Demme employs for the rehearsal and wedding ceremonial. Some of said it's nauseating or like watching old home video footage. Some even say that the toasting sequence at the rehearsal dinner is excruciatingly long. They're missing out. They don't realize that Demme is actually benefiting the story and the characters by approaching these scenes in this fashion. Demme's wandering cameras expose raw and unfiltered characters with an appropriate closeness. The liberates him to focus on moments of discomfort, following Kym's determination to be in the limelight as she forces her self-centered behavior into uncomfortable areas of confession and humiliation.

We have all heard the phrase "there's one in every family" which refers to those relatives that are a challenge to be around or communicate with. These family members may be going through a variety of emotions and/or dealing with difficult situations and often unknowingly drag everyone around them down with them. Writer Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) must know families, for all we know she could even be drawing from her own. What she and director Jonathan Demme do here is expose just how those siblings, daughters, fathers and estranged mothers deal or not deal with whatever familial sheen they inevitable wear. After all, sheen does eventually wear off to reveal what really lies beneath.

The Skinny:
  • The film opened the 65th Venice International Film Festival. The film also opened in Canada's Toronto Film Festival on September 6, 2008
  • The screenplay was written by Lumet. daughter of director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne. Lumet, a junior high school drama teacher, has written four earlier screenplays, but this was the first to be produced.
  • The film and was shot in Stamford, Connecticut in a naturalistic, documentary style. The working title for the film was originally Dancing with Shiva, but was officially changed to Rachel Getting Married.
  • It was Sidney Lumet himself who approached Demme about his daughter Jenny's script.
  • The kid playing the guitar in the film is actually Demme's son.
  • Filming took 33 days and occurred in late 2007.
  • Demme had wanted to work with Anne Hathaway ever since he spotted her in a crowd at a screening five years earlier. He immediately took her in consideration for the role of Kym.
  • Hathaway later said of her first reading Lumet's script: "I was in my old apartment in the West Village [Manhattan], just pacing back and forth between the kitchen table and the couch. I somehow wound up on the floor sobbing by the last page."
  • DeWitt was considered by the film's casting directors. Demme and the rest of the crew were impressed and immediately wanted her to play Rachel.
  • Bill Irwin is one of Demme's dear friends and neighbor.
  • Irwin is also an accomplished circus performer, often performs in musicals is one of the actors on Sesame Street who has portrayed Mr. Noodle for Elmo's World.
  • Tunde Adebimpe's role, Sidney, was originally offered to American film director Paul Thomas Anderson while he was working on the post-production of the movie "There Will Be Blood."
  • Adebimpe is the lead singer/muscian for the popular art-rock band TV on the Radio.
  • Demme was concerned about Debra Winger's interest in doing the film, but he pumped up his courage to ask her because they had met several times before at the Jacob Burns Center, a film center close to their homes. Winger later accepted the role of Abby.
  • A diverse array of musicians, actually played by director Jonathan Demme's son Brooklyn and his friends, attend Rachel's wedding performing both before and after the ceremony. Various musical soundtrack themes are played "live" during the film.
  • Jenny Lumet spent about 7 weeks writing the script. It was her first to be made into a film, even though it was the writer's 5th screenplay.
  • The dishwasher scene was based on an actual event involving Sidney Lumet and Bob Fosse.
  • Childhood photos of Anne Hathaway's younger brother Thomas served as photos of Ethan in the film.

Moving Pictures

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