Review: Rachel Getting Married (2008)

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In Rachel Getting Married, the late Jonathan Demme combines the form of Cinema Vérité with a candid fly on the wall style that has the awkwardness and intimacy of a pristinely preserved wedding video. In fact, in an interview with Post Magazine, Demme stated he wanted to make “The most beautiful home movie ever.” The result is a subtle use of the camera in illustrating the seclusion and underlying familial disenchantment as former drug addict Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns home on the eve of her sister’s wedding- Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt)

Despite the loose and free roaming style requiring minimal setup, Demme’s framing proves to be essential and purposefully designed to evoke his characters’ strife. Kym’s persistent and palpable vying for attention is given fascinating life as the character is like a pervasive shadow that comes close to engulfing the narrative and shots. Demme commendably portrays the tug of war conflict between Kym and Rachel in a wonderfully engaging cinematic manner.

Rachel fears that her sister is attempting to ruin her wedding by upstaging her with her crippling psychological outbursts and Demme conveys this with careful placement of focus. In the aftermath of a particularly nasty argument, which has their father, Paul (played with indelibly heartening charm by Bill Irving) side with Kym; Rachel announces that she is pregnant. The news is greeted with boundless enthusiasm, and Demme orients the dynamics of the scene away from Kym as all the characters gather on one side of the kitchen while she remains stupefied in the corner.

In the tail end of the film, both characters appear united not only concerning their behaviour towards one another but also in the framing. Kym stands proudly looking on at her sister getting married to her betrothed, and there are many instances where they are positioned in perfect harmony with one another. In the film’s most touching moment Rachel washes and attends to her sister’s wounds while a Violin rendition of “Here Comes the Bride” is heard in the background. The moment signifies that Rachel has temporarily set aside her desire to be the centre of attention to help her sister and acknowledges the mental anguish she has experienced.

The power of Rachel Getting Married is in some of its ruinous family entanglements never being resolved. Much like life, there is no flawlessly wrapped bow on events; opportunities are missed, important words are never uttered, half-hearted painful truths cease the day, and soul bearing words never soothe the conscience. And in the picture’s most devastating scene, trauma can be induced by the most seemingly mundane and innocent household item as an amusing generational battle, fought over stacking the dishwasher, is soured by Paul stumbling upon a plate belonging to his long dead son.

Demme juxtaposes this with a unique portrait of marriage. Many of the scenes in the film are dedicated to showcasing the various members of both families bonding over memories of their time together. Screenwriter Jenny Lumet conceives of marriage as a union between two families as opposed to just being a state enacted commitment between man and woman. The choice of the bridesmaids to be dressed in sarees punctuates this idea because in Indian culture it’s a tradition that when a girl gets married, they leave their family to become part of the husband’s in-laws.

With this in mind, Kym’s alienation becomes all the more potent as her emotional seclusion is put on a bigger canvas. In many of the wedding sequences, the audience can barely see the live wire character as she gets lost amidst the various guests. In the moments we do see Kym, Hathaway’s intense facial expressions portray a convincing isolation and detachment.

Fundamentally, Demme used the cinema to chronicle human beings, and in the best moments of Rachel Getting Married, he does out this ostensibly mundane endeavour with touching and vivid authenticity.

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