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Haiku Review: ‘Rachel Getting Married’

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Sorry for the delay! Lifting Fog continues its sprint to the red carpet with a close look at Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, a true independent film (i.e. not merely “offbeat” or “quirky“) recognized in the Best Actress category for Anne Hathaway’s lead performance. A wedding toast, below.

rgmposter1A private home movie
Messy and authentic
SO not Hollywood

Rachel Getting Married is not your mother’s wedding movie. (Do people say that?) On the other hand, and despite what the adjacent poster suggests, it’s not a “lost soul finds redemption” movie. In fact, it’s not so easily defined as ANY particular movie. Comedy. Drama. Coen. In a way that’s neither pretentious nor inappropriate, it defies easy categorization and just exists as an authentic portrait of a broken but loving family. It’s your worst home movie, starring the girl from The Princess Diaries. Oh, and it’s fantastic.

Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) from a screenplay by Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney), Rachel Getting Married centers on black sheep Kym (Anne Hathaway), brought out of rehab to attend her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. Tension mounts. Grievances are aired. Mild catharsis ensues. Plot-wise, not a whole lot happens. But Lumet’s characters are so richly drawn, and Demme’s direction so open and liberating, that this is quickly forgotten. It doesn’t take long to feel you’ve known this family all your life.

Of course, like the trailer says, “this ISN’T your family.” And unless your family looks like a UNICEF box, that’s totally true. Demme assembles one of the most diverse wedding parties I’ve ever seen: Black, White, East Asian, Indian. No matter what your ethnicity, trust me – Rachel‘s got you covered. What’s so remarkable, though, is the fact that this multiculturalism is hardly the focal point of the movie… or even brought up at all. We’re just asked immediately to accept this crazy gathering of races, religions, and cultures. And that’s kind of great.

This family takes the whole "citizen of the world" concept to absurd new heights.

This family takes the whole "citizen of the world" concept to absurd new heights.

Like The Wrestler, Rachel is big on hand-held camerawork and close shots. Both of these serve to lend the film a genuinely intimate quality. It’s jarring, at first – and painful later, when the real fireworks go off – to be so entrenched in this family’s drama*, but that’s what makes the film unique. Not to keep invoking the image (three-peat!), but it’s maybe the closest thing to a feature-length home movie I’ve ever seen. In the messiest, most private scenes you’ll feel less like a moviegoer… and more like a Peeping Tom. If that’s not reason to hit the theater, I don’t know what is.

Stellar performances across the board help Rachel achieve a level of authenticity unmatched, in my opinion, by any other relatively mainstream film in 2008. From Bill Irwin and Debra Winger (as the father and estranged mother, respectively) to every toaster at the rehearsal dinner, everyone involved imbues the film with a lived-in, real quality. If there’s a standout performance here, it’s only because she was given more to do than the other actors.

We're not in Genovia anymore.

We're not in Genovia anymore.

That’s Anne Hathaway, of course, shedding any remaining vestiges of her early Disney years with acting that’s totally worthy of its Oscar nomination. Kym is scary, fragile, and electric, all of which Hathaway pulls off with the ease of a character pro. She’s earned her acting stripes. I only hope this makes Bride Wars 2: Honeymoon’s Over less of a possibility.

See this movie. It’s that simple. While disconcerting at first, it doesn’t take long for a strange familiarity to kick in. Sure, the film has its traditionally Hollywood “redemptive” moments; it has to. But more often than not, Rachel eschews the mainstream approach and charts its own, totally independent course. You’d be wise to follow it. Like, to the theater. L’chaim!

* (More evidence to support the “state shorthand” theory promoted by JES in a comment on my Wrestler review: Kym’s family lives in Connecticut. They are, for the most part, superficially “perfect.” Simmering just under this glossy veneer are barely contained layers of anger and trauma. SOUND FAMILIAR?!? See Revolutionary Road, Far From Heaven, The Ice Storm, or The Stepford Wives to learn all about the ridiculous skeletons in Connecticut’s familial closet!)

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4 Responses to “Haiku Review: ‘Rachel Getting Married’”

  1. Gunnar Says:

    Great review. Just watched the trailer on hulu, you should try embedding it into your blog. Really want to see the movie now.

  2. Alex Q Says:

    Great caption on the Hathaway picture. Oh, and great review. Duh.

  3. Henning Says:

    I’m glad someone got the reference. Thanks for reading, guys. And Gunnar – WordPress doesn’t allow users to embed Hulu videos (or much else besides YouTube, really) but we’d definitely do so if we could.

  4. Haiku Review: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ « Lifting Fog Says:

    […] whose college brochure-levels of multicultural dynamism haven’t been seen since Rachel Getting Married. There is a Japanese weapons expert fighting Nazis, not to mention a Brit who one assumes is at […]

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