Here is a movie that I only became aware of recently, one that has received much positive critical notice, but so far as mainstream attention, not so much. Rachel Getting Married is a very indie-flavored character piece that uses a wedding as the backdrop to a story that allows family issues to bubble to the surface in an organic manner that is awfully engrossing.
The problem is that the same backdrop used to drive the drama also drives the boredom. This is a big issue for the film because as fantastic as these characters are, there are long stretches that serve to take the viewer out of the film, almost encouraging them to look at their watches, and needlessly padding the running time.
As the story begins, Kym (Anne Hathaway) has just been released from rehab in order to attend her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie Dewitt) wedding. Her father (Bill Irwin) picks her up from the facility and brings her home where she is to attempt to reintegrate with the rest of the extended family as well as the new in-laws. This does not prove to be an easy task as Kym tends towards the self-centered and while she may be clean (nine months sober), her personality traits have not tempered along the same path. It is not long before she is having a blow-up with Rachel over Rachel's choice of her best friend, Emma (Anisa George), as maid of honor.
The entire story takes place over the course of a weekend, during which a lifetime of drama is crammed into a short period of time. There is nothing like a wedding to ignite family animosity while also fostering a camaraderie and a family atmosphere that only a true family can have.
Kym's story with her drug addiction, and other related tragedies, is immensely involving. We watch her love/hate relationship with her sister, her father's constant hovering, not to mention her issues with her mother, which build to an explosive confrontation. It is an involving thread and the one that dominates the piece.
What is fascinating about Rachel Getting Married is the way the script, by Jenny Lumet, develops. It introduces elements only to let them fade away. Scenes are allowed to linger well past the point where they lose sight of the main thread. It is a film that in many ways is an accurate reflection of reality. The narrative is not what the film is about, it is more about the characters and that sense of reality. Yes, there are a couple of big, operatic moments, but they never take off beyond the realm of possibility, not overdone to the point of disbelief. Resolutions are few and far between; answers will not be found here, although there are interesting seeds planted for the audience to make up their own futures for these characters.
While the characters are fascinating, there are stylistic elements that are absolutely maddening. There are so many scenes that just run way too long, lingering on musician side characters, a dishwasher-loading competition, focusing on elements that have no bearing on the primary characters. I understand the intention, and respect the attempt to ensure a realistic grounding, but they just got to be so dull. Fortunately, the good outshines the bad.
The greatest element of this film is Anne Hathaway. Rachel Getting Married is an absolute eye opener with regards to her talent. For years she was entrenched in the Disney princess roles, but has begun expanding into more adult performances. Watching her as Kym is akin to watching her mature in front of your eyes. Her presence is magnetic; she electrifies the screen as this sober drug addict attempting to make right without ever being able to forgive herself. It is a powerful performance that needs to be seen.
Bottom line. An excellent character piece tempered by dull "reality" moments. Jonathan Demme's film succeeds in spite of its flaws and proves to be a film well worth watching.