You would think that seeing two people who love each other exchange vows of holy matrimony in front of their families, their friends, and before the deity of their choice would be simple and joyous with little to no stress involved. And yet, if you said this to anyone who has either attended a wedding or been a member of a wedding party, chances are that they’d laugh in your face like so…
Especially when it comes to the wedding that is portrayed in the film Rachel Getting Married, which opened in theaters on October 3, 2008.
Rachel Getting Married tells the story of Kym Buchman, a twentysomething recovering addict who is temporarily released from the custody of her rehabilitation clinic so that she may attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her fiancé Sidney (TV On The Radio lead singer Tunde Adebimpe), much to the overwhelming delight of her father, Paul (Bill Irwin) and to the less-than-enthusiastic delight of Rachel herself. What starts out as a joyous occasion with family and friends coming together to celebrate the upcoming nuptials soon devolves into a battle royale in which Kym ends up clashing with many of those same friends and family members, including Paul, her mother, Abby (Debra Winger), and especially Rachel, resulting in many an old wound being reopened, and Kym and her family being forced to confront their heartbreaking past as they decide whether to move forward together or sever ties and go their separate ways.
Rachel Getting Married was made when directors began to experiment a lot more with digital film/video and what it was capable of, from Richard Linklater with Tape to Michael Mann with Collateral. And the late director Jonathan Demme’s choice to shoot digitally not only makes what we see onscreen have the intimate feel of a home movie, but also makes what we see onscreen feel even more difficult and uncomfortable to watch at times, because of the fact that it feels like an intimate home movie where lots of dirty laundry is being publicly aired, and where it doesn’t shy away from what Kym, Rachel, and the other characters say and do to each other. We don’t get any of Demme’s trademark extreme close-ups of characters looking directly into the camera (though the closest we do come to that is when Kym is reunited at a beauty salon with a fellow recovering addict who was at the same clinic with her, and who reminds her of how she lied about being molested in order to gain attention), but that doesn’t stop him from finding other ways for his characters to appear open and vulnerable.
Demme was (I really do hate having to refer to him in the past tense) an expert at bringing his audiences into communities that they may not be entirely familiar with and showing them how said communities operate and function, whether it’s an East Coast mob family (Married To The Mob), the FBI (The Silence Of The Lambs), truck drivers using CB radios to contact each other (Citizens Band a.k.a. Handle With Care), a women’s penitentiary (Caged Heat), or one of the most celebrated rock bands in history as they perform in concert (Stop Making Sense). In this particular case, it’s an upper-middle class household in Connecticut hosting a large and surprisingly diverse guest list (and with many a familiar face seen throughout the film, including actress/writer Anna Deavere Smith, Sebastian Stan, Dorian Missick, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Robyn Hitchcock, legendary director/mentor to Jonathan Demme himself, Roger Corman, poet/writer Beau Sia, American Idol contestant Tamyra Gray, and hip-hop legend Fab 5 Freddy) that is exuding their joy and support for Rachel and Sidney in so many unique ways. And as unbelievable as this may be or feel at times (and the fact that such an open-minded White family and circle of friends exists is a criticism that some people leveled at Demme’s film Philadelphia), the film also gives us plenty of reason to enjoy the location and the people in it, even if the constant playing of violins in the background is a bit much, which Kym eventually and thankfully calls out.
Besides Demme’s terrific direction and Jenny Lumet’s exceptional screenplay (and whether or not the surname is familiar to you, there’s no denying that her talent is evident with every page she wrote), there are of course the amazing performances that made Rachel Getting Married absolutely worth watching.
As Rachel, Rosemarie DeWitt plays someone who spends the majority of the film torn between focusing her full attention on her wedding with Sidney, her pregnancy which she has kept hidden from everyone until this very weekend, and the presence of Kym, who can’t help but give Rachel one reason after another to lash out at her for her constant need for attention from everyone around her. When Rachel sees Kym on the morning of the wedding, her physical and emotional wounds on full display, the choice becomes clear to her as she focuses on letting Kym know how happy she is to have her there as her sister, and that she is loved no matter what. It’s not nearly enough to heal all of Kym’s wounds (or Rachel’s, for that matter), but it’s a start.
Paul Buchman is someone who has been struggling to remember what joy and happiness feels like, and grabs onto every sign of it within his family like a port in a storm, from Rachel and Sidney’s wedding, to Rachel’s pregnancy, to Kym’s return home. And to see how emotionally shattered he can become in the dishwasher scene, when he’s faced with a stark reminder of who and what he lost, his struggle is an understandable one, and Bill Irwin does a terrific job of conveying that in every scene.
Kieran (Mather Zickel) is Sidney’s best friend/business partner who finds himself attracted to Kym, and the feeling is clearly mutual. A recovering addict himself, Kieran may not fully understand the grief that is affecting Kym, but he’s all too familiar with what being an addict is like, and is willing to stand by Kym as she struggles to keep her demons in check while supporting her family.
Abby Buchman is someone who absolutely loves her children, but losing one of them made it feel very necessary for her to put as much distance between her and the rest of her family as possible in order to find happiness and to find her own port in a storm. And it seems as if nothing can or will change that for her, not even seeing her oldest daughter getting married, or having both of her daughters stand before her and ask her to stay and celebrate the occasion with them instead of leaving in a hurry. And being confronted by Kym about her role in the death of her son by leaving him in the care of his irresponsible drug-added sister, a confrontation that ends with mother and daughter screaming at each other and then slapping each other in the face, certainly doesn’t help.
Kym Buchman’s primary focus is on staying sober, continuing her recovery, and doing what she can to try and make amends for getting her brother Ethan killed by driving under the influence and crashing her vehicle while Ethan was accompanying her. And despite all of that, she can’t help but fall back into old habits when it comes to interacting with her family, such as turning a simple toast in honor of the wedding into a ten-minute-long confessional about her time in rehab, which only causes tension between her and Rachel to rear its head once again as we get a taste of the sibling rivalry that has clearly existed between them for quite some time. Even when it seems as if said rivalry has finally ended so that she can give Rachel the support she needs and deserves before she walks down the aisle, she still can’t allow herself to be happy or comfortable like every other guest at the wedding. Not when her family still remains torn apart, not when her mother insists on keeping both her physical and emotional distance from the rest of them, and not when she still carries the guilt of her actions resulting in all of this happening. But none of that will stop her from doing what she has to do in getting from the beginning of the day to the end of the day without letting herself or her family down, especially not after everything they’ve all been through.
It was with this performance as Kym that Anne Hathaway proved to many people how incredibly talented she was and still is (her Oscar nomination for Best Actress certainly didn’t hurt, either), and that there was more to her than being treated like a doormat by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (her friends and her boyfriend in that movie still ain’t shit, though) and ruling over the Kingdom of
Genosha Genovia as Princess Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (and I’m quite certain that if a third film in The Princess Diaries series was suddenly announced to be in production, and Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo, and Chris “Still The Best Chris Out Of All The Chrises, If Only Because He Insists On Owning A Flip Phone Just So He Can Do This” Pine were to return, my ass would be first in line along with many, many, many others). And yet, that didn’t stop a large portion of the media from giving her so much shit and starting a backlash against her (you can thank them for creating the term “Hatha-haters” and pretending that regular people on a message board somewhere did so because their hatred of Anne Hathaway was just that intense) all because she had the audacity to be enthusiastic about her work, because she was seen as being too needy about wanting to win an Oscar when she was nominated for her performance in Les Miserables (and yet, all of the campaigning and enthusiasm shown by Leonardo DiCaprio for his Oscar nomination for The Revenant was seen as funny, charming, and totally understandable for all of the other times his work had been shunned by the Academy), and because she was blamed for doing a poor job in co-hosting the 2011 Academy Awards, despite the fact that Anne was the one mostly doing all of the work to keep everyone entertained and her co-host James Franco spent nearly all three hours coasting as if he’d rather be doing anything else, like violently attacking his co-stars on set or something.
But thanks to her roles in The Dark Knight Rises (Hathaway’s performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman was so damn good that I’m still disappointed that she never got her own solo film), Interstellar, and Colossal (and if you haven’t seen Colossal, please fix that and fix that immediately), Hathaway was seen by Hollywood as making her comeback, despite the fact that, much like LL Cool J, there was no actual comeback or even a need for one, as she’d been here for years and hadn’t really gone anywhere, and was only guilty of receiving the same misogynistic bullshit treatment that Winona Ryder did because of her shoplifting, and they were both punished and rapped on the knuckles by Hollywood and by the media much harder than they ever did to Johnny Depp. Because as I’ve said before, and as Courtney has said much more eloquently, when it comes to the careers of (White) men who use and abuse women, who physically abuse their spouses and their colleagues on the sets of movies and television shows…they’ll be fine. They’ll be just fine.
Whereas Hathaway still remains showing her work and doing the damn thing both onscreen with her performances in films such as Ocean’s 8, and offscreen in real life, in how she spoke up on Instagram about the murder of Nia Wilson, an eighteen-year-old Black woman who was stabbed to death at a BART train station in Oakland, California while accompanied by her sister, Lahtifa, who was also attacked by the suspect, but survived…
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The murder of Nia Wilson- may she rest in the power and peace she was denied here- is unspeakable AND MUST NOT be met with silence. She is not a hash tag; she was a black woman and she was murdered in cold blood by a white man. White people- including me, including you- must take into the marrow of our privileged bones the truth that ALL black people fear for their lives DAILY in America and have done so for GENERATIONS. White people DO NOT have equivalence for this fear of violence. Given those givens, we must ask our (white)selves- how “decent” are we really? Not in our intent, but in our actions? In our lack of action? Peace and prayers and JUSTICE for Nia and the Wilson family xx Note: the comments for this post are closed. #blacklivesmatter #antiracist #noexcuse #sayhername #earntherighttosayhername
…and when she spoke out in support of the LGBTQ community and against White cisgender privilege in her speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner when she was honored with the National Equality Award. (And yes, I’m fully aware that no one deserves cookies for saying and doing the right thing, but it’s always great to see allyship being done and done correctly):
At its core, Rachel Getting Married is a story not just about marriage, but about family, loss, the pain that accompanies both grief and recovery, and finding ways to come to terms with it all. So if you haven’t seen it yet, give it a shot. If anything, you’ll most likely find it much more enjoyable than the weddings you’ll be invited to attend in real life.
Header Image Source: Sony Pictures Classics