Rachel Getting Married (2008) dir. Jonathan Demme
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie Dewitt, Mather Zickel, Bill Irwin, Deborah Winger
With all the praise heaped on this Oscar-potential/‘Jonathan Demme Comeback’ picture, I need to find or create a support group for “Haters of Rachel Getting Married”. This overly self-conscious contrived melodrama purports to be realism through obvious handheld camera work and supremely boring documentary-like wedding footage, which ironically is so in-your-face politically correct it’s sickening.
Demme’s picture is intentionally bleak. There’s no sign of optimism or hope in any of the characters letting bygones be bygones. Maybe at another reunion, years later, things will get resolved, but for now, it’s war. Kym Buckman (Anne Hathaway) has just been released from rehab for her drug addiction which contributed to her younger brother’s death. That’s a hell of a lot of baggage to bring to her sister Rachel’s wedding, which coincidentally is scheduled the day after she gets out. Kym immediately resents being relegated to the end of the rehearsal dinner table and being ostracized from the “maid of honour” duties. Since Kym is ticking timebomb of emotion – something which Rachel has trouble avoiding on this day of celebration - it makes for explosive fireworks.
In a number of heated arguments during the pre-wedding activities blame is shifted between everyone in the family – Dad, for being to controlling, Rachel, for being the perfect daughter, Kym, for demanding everyone’s attention, and Mom, for not taking any responsibility for the children whatsoever.
Demme concentrates so much on the Buckmans he forgets there’s other people in the room as well. Somehow the incumbent family doesn’t seem to care about the domestic fireworks because we never ever get a reaction from them. Rachel's fiancé Sidney never tries to intervene, never rolls his eyes and never says a word.
This only one of the annoying contrivances which get piled onto what should have been a four-hander story – a la “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. Instead, the wedding elements (assuming you got past the contrivance of scheduling a wedding the day after your sister who killed your younger brother gets out of rehab) just get in the way of the story.
In the spaces between the domestic disputes and sibling rivalry (the actual 'story'), Demme eats up screentime with a series of lengthy ‘life-like’ wedding scenes. There’s a 10 mins long rehearsal dinner where we get to sit through all the speeches from the wedding party. That stuff is excruciating enough at real weddings, so I don’t need to see it lived out on screen. And Demme’s hand-held camera – like those Dogma films from 10 years ago –is shot to look like camcorder footage. Ironically though, it’s an obvious device force-fed to us in the name of realism.
The other annoying contrivance is the overly ethnically diverse self-conscious wedding. Let’s go through the mélange of cultures represented at the Buckman wedding. Sidney is African-American, Rachel is Jewish yet everyone is dressed in traditional South Asian attire (the women are wearing Saris and the men wearing Indian robes). But Sidney and Rachel are going to live in Hawaii after the wedding so the men are wearing Leis around their necks. The scarf-wearing hipster band plays ultra-cool indie-pop music, until out of nowhere a Carnivale-style Brazilian samba band shows up.
If Demme had concentrated on the real storyline and stakes at hand, the wedding should have been a background to get the characters in a room together, Instead he spends so much time creating this impossibly cool wedding, it’s distracting from the fine performances being created. Hathaway will like get her Oscar nomination, but barely because Demme almost fucked it up by masturbated to his own ‘dream wedding.’
PS. At one point in the film when Kym dramatically confronts her mother’s culpability in the conflict another audience member at Toronto’s Varsity Cinema #8 groaned with the same emotional exhaustion I was feeling. It put the only genuine smile on my face. I should have found that guy after the movie and started a group hug.