Some of the best movies involve tenuous family situations at weddings and other celebratory events: Think of The Godfather, this year's forthcoming Unconte de Noel (A Christmas Tale), or if you're into dysfunction, Margot at the Wedding. There is something about mutually shared histories, families brought together under one roof, and a little bit of wine to really bring out the best and the worst in people—and to provoke the stories that make for interesting cinema. Rachel Getting Married is one of the more joyful additions to this canon, and one that deeply resonates in the soul.
It's a simple story: Kym (Anne Hathaway), the black sheep of the family, is released from another nine-month stint in rehab, just in time for her sister Rachel's (Rosemary DeWitt) wedding to Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). Both families and their friends have gathered to celebrate the nuptials. While preparing for the celebration, Kym, Rachel, and the family are forced to confront a painful part of their family history, and all the past hurts and anger surface. When Kym goes missing, the family panics, but forgiveness and healing stems from the deepest hurts and joys they share.
Rachel Getting Married throbs with life from title to credits, employing perhaps the most authentic characters you'll see on screen this year. You'll fall in and out of love with them repeatedly in all their joy, sarcasm, self-righteousness, humor, narcissism, and tenderness. Nobody here is a saint, and there is no villain; even Kym, who could have easily been a sardonic addict in reluctant recovery, is still a sardonic addict, but one in doggedly determined pursuit of recovery—attending AA meetings and working hard to follow the program's steps—with a keen need to somehow atone for her past wrongdoings. Rachel has her own set of arrogancies, and some of these tense family discussions are physically uncomfortable to watch.
Director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, The Manchurian Candidate) allows his actors plenty of space to develop relationships with one another and work as naturally as possible on set by spending a long time in the moment. For instance, a lengthy wedding rehearsal scene that you would swear is all improvised was shot in two 45-minute takes. The result is a raw emotion that feels so authentic, it could almost be a home movie or documentary, with an unsteady hand-held style and many jaggedly-cut montages. But the wedding itself is pure joy for the audience—the music, the dancing, the color, love, and light are palpable. It's like being at the most lovely, intimate wedding you've experienced, the kind that truly draws a community together.
Hathaway's turn in this film has provoked a flurry of Oscar buzz, and it's not unmerited; this is a substantial departure from her mostly wholesome, relatively fluffy good-girl roles in movies like The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada. Here, as a recovering addict with a temper and a guilty conscience, she alternately flames, annoys, and charms, like a streak of slightly untamable lightning. But Hathaway is only a small part of what makes this such an enjoyable movie experience. One gets the sense that there are no extras in this world—the cast is made up of not just actors, but musicians, poets, comedians, and dancers. It seems like Demme got a bunch of his friends together for a party, then decided to let others in on the fun.
The screenwriter, Jenny Lumet (daughter of veteran director Sidney Lumet), refreshingly refuses to make an issue of circumstances that many lesser writers would have felt bound to have the characters talk about. Rachel is a white girl from Connecticut; Sidney is black and lives in Hawaii; their family and friends fill out the rest of the cultural gamut. The bride and her bridesmaids wear saris, and their wedding reception includes traditional American-style folk music, Hawaiian belly dancing, hip hop, slow jazz, and pretty much anything you can think of.
Yet one never gets the impression that Lumet is forcing a point or agenda, and there are no stilted conversations about a "mixed-race" marriage, simpering rhapsodies on cultural differences, or smirking references to anyone's "whiteness." This is a twenty-first century family living in the United States, in a community where different people from different backgrounds and ethnicities mix freely and naturally without comment. I sat watching these people feasting and celebrating together, and thinking that the Kingdom might look a lot like this—and then Kym's grandmother stood at the rehearsal dinner and joyously exclaimed, "This is what heaven will be like."
Rachel Getting Married brings up some serious questions about regrets and forgiveness, both human and divine. The family is also dealing with a broken marriage, a lost child, addictions, and other extended crises, and their tensions bubble to the surface in the kind of arguments that make visitors (and audiences) flinch. Kym states in her AA meeting that while she's glad that many people can find solace in God, she isn't sure she wants to believe in a God who can forgive her for what she's done and the havoc she wreaked on her family and others. But the most touching moment in the movie comes when Rachel gently washes Kym's wounds, a visual analogy for the effect forgiveness has on bruised and beaten souls. The wounds are still there and visible, but the dirt is gone. Healing can begin.Discussion starters
- Kym says that she couldn't believe in a God who could forgive her for what she'd done. What does the gospel story mean for Kym's understanding of forgiveness?
- Has there ever been a time in your life when you tried to make amends for your sin, and had a difficult time? What did you do?
- What do you think heaven will be like? What sort of celebrations do you anticipate there?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Rachel Getting Married is rated R for language and brief sexuality. There's enough bad language to make many people cringe. Kym and the best man have sex in the garage moments after meeting (though it's shot from a distance in silhouette, and nothing is shown). There is plenty of talk of drugs, and some emotionally disturbing conversations between family members. Kym and her mother briefly exchange blows.
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