Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married” plays like one of the most beautifully shot Wedding video ever made. The mostly handheld camera jets in and out of preparations for the hallowed event catching the all the drama, the joy, and the tears on the fly.
The story written by Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney Lumet), revolves around the last minute preparations the day before Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding and the drama that develops when her sister Kym (Hathaway) is released from rehab for the event. She descends upon the proceedings like an angry sardonic wicked witch tearing down everyone she meets, and espousing canned philosophical truisms to maker her feel better about herself and her resentful family. And like that wicked witch, a house is just destined to fall on her eventually; everyone just hopes it doesn’t happen until after the big day. As the film moves along we learn more about the family and the tragic secret that prevents them from truly supporting each other.
The ensemble cast is pretty sizable and Director Demme and Cinematographer Declan Quinn, do a fantastic job of keeping the story moving while letting supporting cast drift in and out with out feeling forced or confusing. Editor Tim Squyres an Altman alumni should also be commended for keeping a reasonable rhythm going and again keeping the whole event from flying off the tracks.
There are some delightful sequences, such as the Dishwasher Loading contest between the Father of the Bride (Bill Irwin) and the new Husband (Tunde Adebimpe) and the wedding ceremony itself. There are also some fantastic dramatic moments, such as the numerous confrontations between Rachel and Kym, of the final explosion that erupts between Kym and her mother (Deborah Winger). Scenes that make you feel for the characters are or push the plot along are cut short unexpectedly and others, that add nothing to the film are drawn out to baffling lengths.
For example, about halfway through the excruciatingly long rehearsal dinner, I started wondering if I had missed something and if this wasn’t the actual wedding itself. Then later at the reception, the film treats us as though we're all friends with these people and obligated to sit politely while bored stiff, while various relatives babble into the microphone. It's even worse than watching the home videos of complete strangers, because at least a stranger's wedding has the virtue of being real. And while the actors do a commendable job of letting us get to know their characters, they are just characters.
The performances are top notch with Hathaway being the stand out. Even though this is Rachel’s Wedding, it is Kym’s film. (Even during the wedding ceremony Kym is perfectly framed in the background while Rachel and her new husband slide in and out of frame awkwardly). Hathaway is fury ball of ticks and nervous twitches, she can barely contain all the rage and pain and anger of her situation. She is genuinely happy for her sister but having been in and out of rehab so much, and virtually ostracized from the family, she knows nothing about the husband to be, what’s more, she’s been in “recovery” for so long she has no longer has any reference point as to what “normalcy” she is trying to recover. There is already Oscar talk surrounding Hathaway, and it’s completely deserved. Dewitt is also commendable playing off of Hathaway as she struggles to forgive her sister and accept her back into the family. Winger is also strong as the now divorced and equally ostracized mother (for reasons not quite explained), as does Irwin as the constantly doting and suffering patriarch of the family.
But film ultimately collapses in on itself, partially due to the overlong running time and partially because nothing really happens. As is the case in slice of life pieces, the plots and characters are rife with unfinished business, and that’s fine. But what’s necessary and yet missing is some vision that ties all these loose ends together thematically if not literally. The preparations bring out the worst in everybody just as the wedding itself brings out the best. And yet no one does anything all that horrible. The nuclear devastation that everyone fears coming from Kym as her fuse gets ever shorter, explodes in a quiet and unobserved poof. And the resolution, while being realistic enough, is entirely too pat to be dramatically satisfying.