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Rachel Getting Married (2008)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
Director:
Jonathan Demme Jonathan Demme
Starring:
Sebastian Stan Sebastian Stan
Roslyn Ruff Roslyn Ruff
Anne Hathaway Anne Hathaway
Bill Irwin Bill Irwin
Anna Deavere Smith Anna Deavere Smith

6.7 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres: Drama, Ensemble Film, Family Drama
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: November 17, 2008
Most people had given up on Jonathan Demme. For a while, he was one of the hottest directors on the planet - churning out hit after hit after hit. How's this for a string of successes - "Stop Making Sense" followed by "Married to the Mob" followed by "The Silence of the Lambs" followed by "Philadelphia". Then his career took a nosedive. There was much to admire about "Beloved", but the film underperformed both critically and commercially. "The Truth About Charlie" was just a poorly conceived remake starring Mark Wahlberg that sank. "The Manchurian Candidate" brought the man back to the mainstream and "Jimmy Carter Man from Plains" cemented his status once more, but it's "Rachel Getting Married" that will re-introduce many movie-goers to one of the finest directors working in the business today - the 'great' Jonathan Demme. Throughout his career, Demme has tackled numerous documentaries - most of them dealing with his idols, like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. So, it would figure that Demme might one day tackle a feature film in a very documentary-esque style. "Rachel Getting Married" is that film. Just watching it, you can find no traces of Demme's trademark style. It seems like it might have been the latest Noah Baumbach film. This style of narrative direction is new for Demme, but he handles it brilliantly. Before I saw this film I watched "Synecdoche, New York". I didn't think I could possibly enjoy "Rachel Getting Married" as much as the latest Charlie Kaufman. I was wrong. Best movie of the year.

When we first meet Kym (Anne Hathaway), she's sitting outside her rehab facility waiting on her ride. Where is she going? Her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married and Kym has secured a weekend pass to attend the ceremony. Her father Paul (Bill Irwin) picks her up with her stepmother Carol (Anna Deavere Smith). From the get-go Kym is treated differently. She's been a way for a while and the whole family interaction has been changed. We learn, soon enough, that Kym was a former alcoholic and drug addict - violently so. We also learn she was a former model and that she accidentally killed someone in a car accident. The film follows the wedding from the rehearsal dinner to ceremony, and we follow the family the entire way. Debra Winger stars as Abby, Kym's emotionally distant mother who doesn't seem to keen on the wedding at all. We also meet a host of other family members, friends and acquaintances throughout the course of Kym's weekend visit home. Slowly, old wounds start to open up, with a struggle developing between the two sisters as each seems to be determined to keep all of the focus from the other one. By the end of the film, there is minor comfort and minor solace, but we know things are as complicated as ever.

Let's start with the narrative style. Demme chose to pursue a documentary-style approach to this film, giving us the sense that someone is following the family around with a camera the whole time. He deviates from this occasionally, but it's rather consistent. This was the same technique used by Noah Baumbach in "The Squid and the Whale". It worked there and it works here. Normal scenes of interaction between the family are heightened due to this technique and we really get the sense that we're eavesdropping on private family conversations. The script by Jenny Lumet - the daughter of the great Sidney Lumet - is tight and efficient, making sure that we see how all of Kym's former relationships have been altered due to her actions before her trip to rehab. The script allows us to feel sorry for Kym but also to hold her in contempt as she consistently uses her illness as an excuse to take the spotlight from others and promote her own dysfunctional tendencies. When she makes the insinuation that she might start using drugs again if her family doesn't lighten up - we don't feel sympathy for her - we are angry at her for wielding her sickness like a weapon. When she goes back to rehab at the end of the film, it seems like the right thing. She has not been healed.

The performances here are what Academy Awards are made for. Anne Hathaway provides her most effective performance yet in a role that will surely transform her into one of the most dependable and unlikely dramatic actresses around. She proves herself here. Rosemarie DeWitt is equally strong and illuminant as Rachel, her sister. DeWitt and Hathaway have great chemistry and theirs is the relationship that drives the film home. You can almost certainly expect a nomination for the underrated Bill Irwin as Kym's do-gooder father who just wants to be as happy as possible for as long as possible. He has a breathtaking scene in the kitchen as he and Rachel's fiancÚ are having a dish-off - he stumbles across something and the result is shattering. You can also expect a much deserved nomination for Debra Winger, the incredible Oscar-winning actress who is returning to the screen after an extended absence. She has been sorely missed and her role here is pitch perfect. She commands the screen when she's present, and we don't see her very much at all. The family has such a strong connection that we really do feel what they're going through. They seem so much more authentic than your average family. Though I consider "The Squid and the Whale" to be a superior film, the family therein is not as realistic as the family here. We can see their struggles and understand what they're going through. It shows family is not a cut and dry thing.

This film makes me very excited because I am happy to see Jonathan Demme returning to the kinds of great films that made his career in the first place. He has been slumming for a while and it's nice to see him try something innovative and different. Just as this is a return to form for Demme, it's very much a 'coming out' for Anne Hathaway, who shows her dramatic skills for the first time in full force. And it's a comeback for Debra Winger, far too long removed from the scene. "Rachel Getting Married" is the best film of 2009 for multiple reasons, the least of which being that I just haven't been able to stop thinking about it. It stays with you. My suggestions are Anne Hathaway for Best Actress, Bill Irwin for Best Supporting Actor, both Debra Winger and Rosemarie DeWitt for Best Supporting Actress, Jenny Lumet for Best Original Screenplay, Jonathan Demme for Best Director and "Rachel Getting Married" for Best Picture. You can expect it to find nominations in some of those categories, but I will be satisfied if Debra Winger gets the only one. I had forgotten how much I truly enjoy her on screen. This is a wonderful, wonderful film.

10/10.
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Tristan #1: Tristan - added 06/13/2009, 06:09 PM
Completely agree with this review. Everyone's performance was top notch, and every scene felt realistic and 100% believable. Nothing felt forced or out of place. One of the better family drama films I've seen.

10/10
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