I have attended uncomfortable family gatherings but none quite as painful as the weekend that the Bauchman’s spend in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, the new film from Jonathan Demme (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PHILADELPHIA). This is a film about emotional scars and deep seeded family pain that can’t be put on hold even when there’s a wedding to plan. The story centers on the wedding of Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and the return of her sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) from rehab. Kym is a drug addict and a drunk and has a way of being self-deprecating to a fault. During a squeamish wedding toast, Kym makes it very clear that she is a recovering addict and resident black sheep. Rachel understandably has a chip on her shoulder when everything seems to be about Kym.
RACHEL GETTING MARRIED involves a tragedy from Kym’s past that she has a harder time forgiving herself for than the rest of her family does. Anne Hathaway brings a vulnerability to the role but she is never immersed. The revelation of the tragedy is abrupt and in the wrong location. We are subjected to quite a bit of melodrama throughout the proceedings without much meat and potatoes. Kym is tortured while the rest of her family just wishes she’d get better. One of the problems I had with the film is that Kym is such a thoroughly unlikable character with almost no redeeming value. She makes everything about her and her pain even on a weekend that is supposed to be about her sister. The most interesting character in the film is the girls’ mother (Debra Winger) who makes a big impact with a very underwritten role. The role of the mother seems so central to the girls’ lives yet Winger barely has any screen time to develop it. Since there is an extended scene of the wedding that goes on and on for the sole reason of showcasing how cool the party guests are, it truly feels like time wasted.
Demme shot RACHEL GETTING MARRIED handheld documentary style which is the right choice but I couldn’t help think of Thomas Vinterberg’s THE CELEBRATION, one of Denmark’s landmark Dogma films. THE CELEBRATION has a similar look, feel and premise but was the better film. In RACHEL GETTING MARRIED there is too much meandering. The performances are strong especially from Winger and Bill Irwin as a sweetheart of a guy who maniacally tries to keep everybody calm and happy. Screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) shows talent in writing frank and authentic family dialogue but overall the film is unfocused. In the end, Dad is overprotective, Sis just wants her day in the sun, Rachel just wants to be loved. The relationships between these people are underdeveloped and without much substance. I wanted RACHEL GETTING MARRIED to delve more deeply into this. With this and last year’s MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, somebody needs to step up the “family-quietly-in-pain-while-planning-a-small-intimate-wedding genre.