Rachel Getting Married
Starring Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Debra Winger
Directed by Jonathan Demme
There’s a bitter irony to the title of Rachel Getting Married, the beautifully painful family drama from director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet.
Yes, the weekend that the film captures should belong to Rachel Buckman (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her wedding to fiancé Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) at the family home in suburban Connecticut. But because Rachel’s sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) is getting a weekend pass from her latest court-mandated stint in rehab, it’s really going to be all about Kym. Because for more than a decade within this sad, bent-but-not-entirely-broken family, it has always been all about Kym and her addictions and her relapses and her dramas.
As it turns out, there’s a second layer of irony built into that title. You’ll see plenty of awards-season attention steered towards Hathaway’s performance as Kym, which likely means that DeWitt’s Rachel will take a back seat. And that’s a damned shame, because Rosemarie DeWitt — please remember that name, American movie-going public — turns in one of the most quietly spectacular pieces of film acting you’ll see this year.
That doesn’t mean Hathaway won’t deserve her own props. While she spits out plenty of acidic dialogue, much of what she does is a marvel of body language. Demme captures her simple stillness as she re-enters her childhood bedroom, and the obvious intensity and sincerity with which she participates in her 12-step meetings. Yet Hathaway also conveys Kym’s exasperating demands to be accommodated and understood, like her wounded response to finding out Rachel has selected a long-time friend as her maid of honor instead of her. It’s an ego-less performance, one that never insists that Kym should always have our sympathy, even when she’s lamenting a horrible deed that can’t be undone.
But as good as Hathaway is, DeWitt is better. She never gets a single showy moment like Kym’s rambling, cringe-inducing speech at the rehearsal dinner, forcing her instead to convey Rachel’s conflicting emotions in smaller ways. Everything DeWitt does captures a longstanding role as family keeper-of-the-peace, even as Rachel’s resentment simmers over living forever in the shadow of Kym’s tragedies.
And even when the dialogue turns to overt recrimination, DeWitt’s readings are dense with a tangle of love and anger. When people talk about a performance being “lived-in,” this is what they should mean: There’s never a moment in DeWitt’s performance when you don’t believe that 30 years of history have brought us to these three days in Rachel’s life.
That sense of history permeates the entirety of Rachel Getting Married so deeply that it often feels like an act of voyeurism. Demme and cinematographer Declan Quinn, in an attempt at greater immediacy, employ hand-held camera work along the lines of the Danish “Dogme ’95” movement; Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration in particular feels like an obvious antecedent here.
But it’s the simple specificity of this family’s wedding weekend that makes it feel like a real event. The constant background noise of violins and lutes evokes the unspecified ties to the music industry of both Rachel and Kym’s father (Bill Irwin) and Sidney; the wedding ceremony’s Middle Eastern theme similarly never gets an explanation. There are no explicit words wasted on the second marriages of Rachel and Kym’s father and mother (a terrific Debra Winger), nor on the fact that Rachel is marrying a black man. For 113 minutes, we’re simply immersed in a typically complicated family — perhaps with slightly more than its share of heartbreak, perhaps with just about the same as most.
The mundane detail of so much of the content — the rehearsal dinner and reception sequences in particular seem to last far longer than you’d expect — might seem like the sort of thing that would deaden dramatic impact.
Instead, the utter genuineness of everything that happens makes every plot revelation or actual confrontation feel startling rather than melodramatic. Every moment feels charged with significance, because it feels so much like part of a larger human story. Demme and Lumet provide the foundation, then hand it over to actors whose connections are enough to make you weep.
It’s Rachel’s wedding, and Kym’s self-pity party, but it’s Hathaway and especially DeWitt who show us the beautiful sadness in family members who find themselves separated even when they’re together.