The trailer link is only here as a matter of stylistic consistency but I actually recommend not clicking on the link. Or, if you do, watch the extended clip instead of the trailer. One of my pet hates is trailers that misrepresent the film they are promoting and if I had made a decision on whether to see Rachel Getting Married based purely on the trailer I would have opted for nay based on the assumption that Rachel Getting Married would be another Quirky Indie Comedy a la Juno appealing to a crowd that needs to feel alternative without leaving the safety of a generic narrative. I ended up seeing this film based on the word of mouth on the Internet and the gamble paid off. Rachel Getting Married is a joy.
Director Jonathan Demme’s name is not the sort to inspire auteur-focused excitement. In fact, Demme’s resume (The Manchurian Candidate, Beloved, The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) suggests a bland, workmanlike approach to cinema. How refreshing then that Demme has created an American film that feels vital, engaged with the organic mess that is real life. Rachel Getting Married is the story of Kim (Anne Hathaway) who is let out of rehab to attend her sister’s wedding. Kim is coping with guilt from her drug-abusing past and is frustrated that everyone around her won’t let her leave the past behind. Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) is worried that Kim’s presence will overshadow her special day, a dynamic that has shaped the family for too long.
However, describing the plot does a disservice to the film. Some of the film’s most special moments happen when the plot recedes into the background and the film focuses on the wedding itself. The film is shot with a constantly roving, shaky camera. If Aronofsky’s use of handheld camera in The Wrestler seemed over-deterministic, Demme’s use of handheld camera in Rachel is perfectly attuned to the little accidents that make life. In some ways this film almost feels like a documentary of a wedding: think Dave Chappelle’s Block Party meets Margot at the Wedding and you have some idea of what is happening in this film.
Speaking of music docos, there is a lot of great music in this film. In the story, both sides of the family are musical which means that there are musicians constantly in the background rehearsing or performing or just hanging around. Famous guys who pop up include Robyn Hitchcock and Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio who plays the groom. Music nerds will I’m sure have an extra layer of appreciation for this film playing spot the obscure celebrity.
Anne Hathaway does great character work in the lead. It’s almost a shame that she had to make Bride Wars in the same year (it’s like Eddie Murphy starring in Norbit after receiving accolades for his turn in Dream Girls) because she does amazing character acting here. Kim is coarse, obnoxious, narcissistic and infuriating and despite this, Hathaway makes you feel empathy for her without turning her into a martyr. Also notable is the ethnic diversity of the cast: It doens’t feel contrived. It feels real. You know, the way that real life is ethnically diverse. Even apart from ethnic differences, there is such a rich tapestry of characters. If I was to make a literary comparison, I’d liken this film to Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. The film will from moment to moment just shift the camera to focus on an unexpected character sometimes even an extra and for the moment the film is theirs.
This film is by no means perfect but it does feel alive and in a year whose arthouse films all seem like the dead offspring of some screenwriter’s imagination, that’s a welcome thing.
SEE THIS WITH:
Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach, 2007)
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (Michel Gondry, 2005)
Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas, 1996)
I actually got more of a Late August, Early September vibe from Rachel at the Wedding but I can’t find a trailer for that on youtube so Assayas’ earlier film Irma Vep will have to do. Fuck, this is such a great film that you should watch it with every film anyway regardless.