Rachel Getting Married is one hell of a realistic experience. Shot mostly hand-held, the style is almost home movie-like and it places you firmly within the times and troubles of a family made up of people we can not only believe in, but truly relate to. These are events and characters adamantly grounded in real life… and that's what primarily makes it such a rewarding film.
Rachel Getting Married tells of recovering drug addict Kym (Anne Hathaway), who heads home just after being released from rehab to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. With the preparations in full swing and the big day approaching fast, Kym comes to blows with the rest of her family as troubles, emotions, and true feelings start to bubble to the surface.
What we're presented with is a window into the life of one troubled young woman and how those troubles affect everything she does and everyone around her. It is anything but simple as we explore realistic human complexities emanating from some of the most well-rounded, believable characters to grace the big screen in ages. You feel like you've been picked up and dropped into the lives of these people — just another guest amongst everyone else.
The wedding may be Rachel's but the film is clearly Kym's, and she is played outstandingly by Hathaway. We're usually presented a sweet and innocent Hathaway, someone who stars in things like The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada but this, along with her rather racy role (where she appeared nude) in 2005's straight-to-DVD Havoc, shows us that she can be so much more than that. In the opening minute of footage we see her sitting on a bench, cigarette in hand with short, messy hair, and with no make-up. It's extremely admirable that an actress like Hathaway, especially considering the way we usually see her, has decided to show a different, perhaps more gritty, side to her acting ability. She is simply fantastic as Kym, playing the character just right, enabling us to relate to her as a real person as opposed to just another character.
Kym isn't exactly a completely likeable person but nonetheless she feels real; she can be spiteful, arrogant, hurtful, and almost childlike in her behaviour. However, she always shows shades of a good person who loves her family but who is often too messed up with problems like her addiction to truly show it. We feel her pain and sadness, we feel sorry for her, and we can relate to the troubles of life that she's going through. In a dramatic highlight of the film, when she has a fight with her mother (which starts off verbal and turns to physical) it feels just like real life. It feels as if it had happened to you or someone you know in your own house. It's a testament to screenwriter Jenny Lumet's grasp of human confrontation and interaction that gives us such a raw and authentic experience. It's often a bleak film but it never wallows in its bleakness, it sends you away hopeful but never manipulated, and above all you feel as though (as stated above) you've actually just seen into the lives of other real people.
Director Jonathan Demme's (The Silence of the Lambs) choice to shoot the film in such a realistic, fly-on-the-wall way usually works wonderfully. However, because of Demme chooses to keep this style consistent throughout the piece, it sometimes – but not often – gets bogged down in needlessly drawn out scenes that, frankly, just don't need to be as long as they are. One example of this is a scene in which Kym's father and Rachel's fiancé seeing who can load the dishwasher faster, and another is one where everyone around the table congratulates the happy couple. The scenes disrupt the pace of the film, dragging it down, and making it seem longer than it actually is.
Even so, the choice is an extremely admirable one; a lot of filmmakers would have replaced some of those drawn out scenes with needlessly exciting or dramatic ones, but Doing so would have diminished the overall realism. Rachel Getting Married could very well be described as a true-to-life drama that takes the form of a raw and sometimes visceral experience.
Those who are suckers for true-to-life stories should latch onto every emotional and visceral hook that Rachel Getting Married has to offer. It's never trite or manipulative and shows a slice of troubled life set amongst the chaos of a wedding. It could be mistaken for a simple home movie instead of an actual wedding with its flawlessly believable dialogue and stunningly realistic performances, particularly the one from Hathaway. Rachel Getting Married recognises that life is not always as rosy as it is depicted in the movies. For the most part you almost forget this isn't just a home video of the real thing and that truly makes it an experience.