Posted by: Nathan | March 15, 2009

The Poignancy of Rachel Getting Married

The other day Netflix sent us Rachel Getting Married*, which J and I wanted to see since it came out. I know what you’re thinking: I wished to see this movie only because my girl Anne Hathaway got an Oscar nomination for her role in it. Well, you’re partially right, but I also watched it because I thought it would be good. I was right. Rachel is a most affecting movie, and its emotional power derives mostly from the acting.

rachel_getting_marriedThe story follows Kym (Hathaway) who gets out of drug rehab for a weekend to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). As we all know, weddings are an extremely emotional time, and Kym’s addition to the mix revivifies strong emotions that have been latent for years. Slowly, the film reveals to the audience what happened with Kym (I won’t tell you) and the damage it caused in the family. There is a lot of hashing out to do, and the dialogue scenes among the family members are poignant and forceful.

For me, DeWitt and Hathaway drive this movie. Their respective performances are exceptional and always affecting. In these sisters, unendurable pain and unconditional love co-exist, and each emotion unceasingly struggles to gain supremacy. Rachel is fed up with all the extra attention Kym receives due to her addiction, and for once she would like the focus to be on her—it’s her wedding after all. Kym has to deal with the knowledge that everyone knows who she is and what she’s done and no one truly understands what she’s been through. Bill Irwin and Debra Winger also turn in good performances as the girls’ parents. There is one particular scene towards the end with Kym and her mom that is heart-rending.

As excellent as the acting and story are, the movie doesn’t attain greatness due to a few minor drawbacks. The movie is shot using mostly hand-held cameras, which doesn’t affect the quality of the action but does make for a Blair Witch-y feel from time to time. The film’s pacing is its greatest fault. The movie drags in several spots. I watched the Behind the Scenes featurette, so I understand that Director Jonathan Demme is going for authenticity; in every wedding weekend, there are moments that are awkward and interminable. However, Demme goes too far in this pursuit, and the rehearsal dinner and reception sequences have much that could have been cut.

That said, Rachel Getting Married is a stirring and powerful film. There is a lot of darkness here to be sure, but if that worries you, there are also spots of hope and brightness. The movie is not a tragedy. I certainly learned a lot about the long-lasting effects addiction can have on both addicts and their loved-ones; that alone makes it worthwhile. Add the excellent performances of DeWitt and Hathway (she definitely deserved that nomination), and you have a meritorious movie. 4 stars (of 5).

*The movie is rated R for sexuality and language. The sex in this piece consists of a five-second glimpse into a shadowy room; I’ve seen more illicit scenes on ABC Family. The language, however, is pervasive.

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