Rachel Getting Married is first and foremost a film about family. If family is its roots, from this stem most prominently the themes of elation and anger, confrontation and repression, forgiveness and resentment. Note how these themes come packaged in pairs. A means of better exemplifying the yin and the yang, in Rachel Getting Married there exists this palpable presence, an attraction-repulsion motif between people and within situations. To the film’s credit, though perpetually teetering on a seesaw, these feelings and actions ultimately find balance.
Less than steady, the intimate angle of the handheld camera maneuver lends to this film a documentary aesthetic. As my companion aptly put it, the film is “more akin to filming a wedding than filming a movie.” Instead of isolating the audience, the film welcomes us, embracing our presence at this suburban Connecticut celebration. It’s refreshing to be included, to experience this special, albeit chaotic, occasion as though we were there, rather than trapping the family in an impenetrable vacuum.
As the presentation itself is sans manicure, so too are the actors. Forget airbrushing, the characters in this film are raw and realistic in both appearance and seemingly unscripted performance. Anne Hathaway (Kym) is as gritty as we’ve ever witnessed, bearing everything from bags to black and blue bruises under her big, brown, untrusting eyes. The figurative baggage she bears isn’t carry-on either.
Returning home from rehab for her older sister’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding, the reactions Kym elicits in those surrounding her run the gamut: from her father’s (Bill Irwin) affectionate albeit hyper-concerned demeanor to her mother’s (Debra Winger) detached seeming-indifference simmering beneath the surface. One might claim Hathaway overacts; but, to be fair, her exaggerated behavior is precisely what the role demands. The audience isn’t expected to sympathize with her theatrics; more accurately, viewers aren’t “expected” to regard her in any preconceived way. She is intrinsically complex. And this is because she is human, plain and simple, not because she suffered from drug addiction, endured among other significant incidences.
By her very nature, Kym irritates. While a downright riot at times, she is not someone we absolutely love. She is exasperating. Further, the entire family is collectively exhausting. Documenting everything from festive traditions to behind-the-scenes breakdowns, Rachel Getting Married contains all the hectic elements of a real life wedding. With humor to boot. The group is endearing, too, especially dad: he is positive and tender. He practices composure while his two daughters duke it out, combusting before his (and everyone else’s) very eyes. Although haunted by a family tragedy, and visibly unnerved when remembering, he selflessly adopts the role of parental referee (no easy task), doing so with patience and grace.
While we guest-spectators survive an entire weekend with this family, few things shift during flight. The plot stands still, revisiting ground traversed countless times before, a landscape to be wandered indefinitely, long after the party’s over. Additionally, Kym returns to the facility following her homecoming. Problems aren’t solved over the course of 48 hours; it takes time to overcome the demons constantly shackling our souls and preoccupying our minds.
No amount of tears shed or hugs shared can adequately redirect one’s course and communicating this is one of Rachel Getting Married’s greatest strengths. The battles we wage with our families are never fully resolved and laid to rest. There are dips and plateaus, but is there ever a clear-cut conclusion?
The movie is a poignant portrayal of a family juggling their own collection of trials and tribulations. Their story is unique to them, but simultaneously illustrates the concept of the everyman, a representation for families. To call this family dysfunctional is redundant, as dysfunction is inherent within the definition of family. It admits that even the most flawlessly planned nuptials cannot foolproof a family from spiraling into dramatic mishap. And, while the film contains several ups and downs, everything eventually aligns.
Although the movie made me feel compelled to occasionally strangle Kym, it painted a beautiful and believable portrait. (Perhaps it is this instinctive impulse to inflict pain that lends the movie credibility, endorsement of the film’s authenticity and impact.) Heavily dependent on dialogue versus spotlighting internal strife, the movie escapes self-awareness. With all the hustle and bustle, little room remains for romanticizing introspective contemplation. With this, Rachel Getting Married successfully refrains from morphing into an agenda pushing, artificial after school special. It simply exists, important but mundane family affairs caught on tape. Heartbreaking and hilarious, it’s moving, without really going anywhere. And, every so often there’s nothing more rewarding than staying put. It may just help us feel at home.