RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
Review by Gordon Justesen
Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel, Anna
Deavere Smith, Anisa George, Robyn Hitchcock, Sister Carol East, Debra Winger
Director: Jonathan Demme
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: March 10, 2009
“I am Shiva the destroyer, your harbinger of doom this evening.”
Rachel Getting Married was one of last year’s most critically acclaimed films, but even the highest level of praise can’t really prepare you for just how mesmerizing it really is. It’s the kind of film experience that doesn’t come around as much as it should. To fully understand my points, you simply have to see the film because not a single hint of detail I give can do justice to an actual viewing will deliver.
The film’s one of a kind impact comes as a result of four precise ingredients. The first of which is the performance of Anne Hathaway, whose Oscar nomination was more than well deserved. I want to say that she flat out deserved the award, but the fact is I’m so torn between her performance and Angelina Jolie’s in Changeling that I may never know which one was superior. If we’re going by physical attractiveness, however, Ms. Hathaway easily gets my vote.
The second crucial ingredient is the rich screenplay by first time writer Jenny Lumet, daughter of legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet. It’s such a bold and remarkable debut piece, that I really do think it should’ve gotten the level of attention that Diablo Cody got for Juno the previous year. I can only imagine the reaction Ms. Lumet got from her father when he realized just how much superb filmmaking runs in his family.
Thirdly, there’s the most marvelous supporting cast. Each individual performer excels in bringing to life a character that seems so very authentic, and will definitely ring true to those who have experienced the wedding process. But the all around feel authenticity of the proceedings leads me directly to the fourth, and by far most important, element to the film; director Jonathan Demme…which I’ll get to in a bit.
The focus of the proceedings is Kym (Hathaway), who is being released from a rehab facility just in time to take part in the wedding ceremony of older sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). Upon arrival at the family home in Connecticut, where the wedding is to take place, she is greeted with love by all her relatives, most notably Rachel. And since Kym is now nine months sober, one could assume that all pain her actions have brought her family will be put aside on the occasion of the wedding.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. While it’s very much a good thing that Kym is rid of her drug addiction, we soon come to realize that even the most powerful form of sobriety can’t change her personality. She’s quite the self-centered type, who will express her opinion to anyone at any given time, no matter who’s around to witness it. The best example is when she learns she won’t be the maid of honor, and then immediately calls Rachel out on it in front of all the bridesmaids.
Along the way, we learn what exactly led to Kym’s downward spiral. It turns out to be a devastating event from the past that manages to be brought out into the light during the worst possible time. Without revealing details, it really is a heartbreaking tragedy, and the way the family deals with it emotionally seems incredibly authentic.
Few filmmakers ever get to make an artistic revelation more than once, but Demme has managed to do just that with this film. It was eighteen years ago when Demme’s masterpiece, The Silence of the Lambs, broke new ground and became the one of the standards for all future thrillers to live up to. In the time since its release, it remains a standard in the genre.
With Rachel Getting Married, Demme seems to have broken new ground with not just the family based drama, but dramas in general. By tapping into his early independent roots (which he had been dying to do for some time) Demme has created, through both a you-are-there feel and the directing of the actors, a family drama that feels discomfortingly real as the story unfolds. It’s an experiment that has been done before in numerous films, and yet somehow Demme has executed it in the most effective way.
The one aspect of the film where Demme’s artistic expression really shines is the creation of the wedding that takes place. It’s a multi-cultural themed event with so many wonderful moments to it. It is perhaps the very first wedding I’ve seen in any movie that I seriously didn’t want to end.
There are so few films like Rachel Getting Married. Though the depiction of a dysfunctional family is certainly nothing new, the way in which Jonathan Demme approaches the material and executes it makes the film an entirely new kind of experience. It’s not going to be an easy viewing for everyone, as the family drama reaches raw and unnerving heights. Nevertheless, this is a bold and invigorating drama with amazingly realized performances from Anne Hathaway and the terrific supporting cast, and an all around dynamic experience I won’t soon forget.
BONUS: The actor portraying the groom, Tunde Adebimpe, is the lead singer of one of my favorite rock groups, TV on the Radio.
Though it won’t win any marks for illustrating the phenomenal qualities of Blu-ray, this is very much the best presentation you will possibly get of this film. It was shot entirely on an HD camera, and the grainy quality does present itself here and there. But it never manages to become too distracting at all, and the independent approach to the film is one of its most distinctive qualities. Without question, this is as good a presentation as one could hope for in this particular format.
The audio mix did surprise me quite a bit, since the film is mainly dialogue oriented. However, the Dolby TrueHD mix really shines in two specific areas. The first is that of dialogue delivery, which is potent especially during heated exchanges. The second area, and most important one, is the extended wedding sequence, which features an endless variety of music in the background, mostly from singer Robyn Hitchcock who plays himself as the wedding singer. The wedding ceremony alone delivers such a dynamic performance of sound, which earns it extra points as a result.
This Sony Blu-ray release delivers just the right amount extras, starting with two commentaries. The first one is with screenwriter Jenny Lumet, producer Neda Armian and editor Tim Squyres, while the second commentary features actress Rosmarie DeWitt. We also have two behind the scenes featurettes; “The Wedding Band” and “A Look Behind the Scenes of Rachel Getting Married”, 9 Deleted Scenes, a Theatrical Trailer and several Bonus Previews for additional Sony releases. Lastly, the disc also includes a BD Live option.
Rachel Getting Married is one true gem of a film experience. Jonathan Demme reinvents the dysfunctional family drama formula and makes something that feels authentic and fresh. Anne Hathaway’s performance is mind blowing, to say the least. Those who admire hard-hitting drama owe it to themselves to check this one out!