Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Home is Where the Hurt is

Film: Rachel Getting Married
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.

I pick a movie on any given day based on a number of potential factors. Mood is part of it, as is naturally availability. But there are some other factors that go into what I decide to watch on a given day. Recently I discovered that, in large part because of the way the 1001 Movies list functions, I’m really behind on movies from the 2000s. Additionally, the 1001 List is extremely lax on adding Best Actress nominations to the official list, so I’m behind there, too. As it happens, 2008’s Rachel Getting Married is the only Best Actress film I haven’t seen currently streaming, which made it an easy choice.

I knew right away I was in for a rough ride. This says nothing about star Anne Hathaway, who I tend to like, nor anything about director Jonathan Demme, who I also tend to like. No, it’s because this is one of those family dramas where everyone gets together and all sorts of issues and problems come out. In this case, the problems all come from Kym (Hathaway), a model doing a stint in rehab, released for a few days to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt).

Almost immediately, this reminded me of the Dogme 95 style despite the style itself dying a good three years before this film was made. The subject, and quite a bit of the camerawork reminded me strongly of Festen. The short synopsis above really does cover the entire film. Kym is a ball of every emotion known, and with reason. She’s carrying a great deal of guilt about her past behavior and the death of her brother years earlier, for which she was largely responsible. She’s angry that her sister has named someone else as her maid of honor and that her father (Bill Irwin) seems to dog her every movement as if she cannot be trusted. She’s scared to be without her typical chemical assistance. She’s lonely despite knowing everyone around her. Rarely has there been a film character this completely neurotic and for such completely understandable reasons.

This is, more or less, a relationship film, and every relationship we are given to care about is between Kym and someone else. We don’t really care about Rachel’s relationship with her husband-to-be Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe); we assume it’s fine. We end up not really caring about Rachel’s relationship with her maid of honor Emma (Anisa George); we assume it will survive. Kym is at the center of everything we care about, and though we don’t specifically see things through Kym’s eyes, we do more or less take her point of view for the entire film.

Here’s the thing, and this is more or less the point of the movie: for a great percentage of the running time, Kym’s point of view is really ugly. We think this comes to a head at the rehearsal dinner where Kym takes the microphone during toasts and goes through an incredibly painful confession of her past sins in part because this is a step in her 12-step program but also because it turns the spotlight on her. It’s 99 and 44/100% selfishness. But this is the tip of the iceberg. We discover soon enough that much of her rehab has been a lie told more or less to keep her from facing the realities of her addictions and her problems. And there are all sorts of unresolved issues concerning the death of her brother, her responsibility for it, and her own unresolved relationship with her estranged mother (Debra Winger).

This is a painful movie, but it’s not supposed to be easy. It plays out like a double-length episode of Intervention, and we’re there to witness every painful moment of it. Rachel Getting Married is emotionally draining from stem to stern because that’s what it’s supposed to be. Everything in Kym’s life, and thus everything on the screen, is an exposed nerve, and we live through it along with her at every step.

And yet, there’s a tremendous bright spot here that has absolutely nothing to do with the story of the film. Sidney, Rachel’s husband by the end of the film, is black. Rachel is white. What’s wonderful here is that this is a non-issue in the film. Twenty, 30, or 40 years before this film was made, the relationship between Sidney and Rachel would be front and center as the most pivotal plot point. Here, it’s such a complete non-issue that it might as well not exist. If nothing else, that’s a truly beautiful thing. That’s the sort of thing that gives me hope for us as a species. Sometimes, we actually get better.

Of course, Anne Hathaway is the centerpiece here, as she should be. The part of Kym is one of those “dig deep” performances that could only be pulled off by someone deeply troubled or extremely capable in front of the camera. I’ve never heard a word about Hathaway being out of control off camera, which leads me to believe that the second option is more likely the true one. For someone who started out making fluffy Disney films, this is a long way to go to grow up, but Rachel Getting Married shows that, despite some missteps in choosing roles (Bride Wars? Get Smart? Really?) Anne Hathaway is capable of being a force to be reckoned with.

I don’t want to watch this again. I’m not even sure I can say I liked watching it. But seeing Anne Hathaway turn in a performance like this is worth your time, even if it’s a painful couple of hours.

Why to watch Rachel Getting Married: Anne Hathaway is all the reason you need.
Why not to watch: It hurts a lot.


  1. I caught up with this fairly recently, and I was blown away by Anne Hathaway's performance. I don't get the hate at all. Every time Kym entered the room, I was just waiting for something bad to happen. She's such a force of nature! I definitely saw the Dogme 95 influence in it too.

    1. Have you seen Festen? It feels like this was a film about the same family 10 years later.

      If I didn't already like Anne Hathaway, this would have turned me into a believer.