Saturday 1 October 2016

Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married (2008)

A dysfunctional family drama, Rachel Getting Married is an intimate intrusion into a private weekend. The film is a witness to dark relationship dynamics that are sometimes fascinating but also spread too thin.

Recovering drug addict Kym Buchman (Anne Hathaway) is released from a rehabilitation program to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) in Connecticut. The wedding is taking place at the Buchman family home where assorted friends and family have gathered, including many musician associates of the groom Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). Paul Buchman (Bill Irwin) is the father of Kym and Rachel, and he is divorced from their mother Abby (Debra Winger) who lives nearby. Paul is almost trying too hard to put on a happy face and hold the family together over the weekend.

Kym is very much the black sheep of the family, and the tension rises as soon as she arrives at the house. An addict since a young age, Kym was involved in the accidental death of her younger brother Ethan years prior, and those emotional wounds never healed. Sidney's best man is Kieran (Mather Zickel), another recovering addict, and he starts a quick affair with Kym. Rachel is desperate to avoid having her big day ruined by her sister's destabilizing presence, but there are plenty of accusations and recriminations lurking in the shadows.

It may be appropriate for a film about two sisters wallowing in self indulgence to be styled as a self indulgent production, but Rachel Getting Married does test the patience. Directed by Jonathan Demme with a free flowing, almost structureless cadence riding the eternal jerkiness of handheld cameras, the film often spins off into long interludes of music and barely scripted scenes that bloat the running time close to two hours. A pre-wedding rehearsal dinner goes on forever, only for a post-wedding party to offer immediate competition for the prize of longest and least meaningful scene of the year.

That Rachel Getting Married survives Demme's unchecked flatulence is largely thanks to the two leading performances from Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt. Hathaway creates the ultimate train wreck in the character of Kym, playing in the space where an internal battle rages between permanent damage and an eternal desperation for forgiveness and acceptance. DeWitt offers a terrific counterpart, unleashing Rachel as the principal beneficiary of Kym's black sheep status. Rachel is not only getting married, but also determined to remain the darling of her father at the expense of grinding Kym's psyche further into the muck. Debra Winger gets a short but critical role as the mother, a generous source of most of the tension that still crackles between the sisters.

Rachel Getting Married is much better when the drama cuts through the many distractions. The scenes of confrontation between family members are a visceral demonstration of a rampant me before family attitude. Even with the levels of melodrama and emotion amplified to almost theatrical levels of intensity and frequency, Rachel Getting Married is undeniably fascinating when the actors yank control and allow the sparks to fly.

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