Film Review: March, 2009
If you haven’t already done so, you really should RSVP that you’ll attend Rachel’s wedding, i.e., get it on DVD – this is not one to be missed. From its first scene through the final credits the viewer is virtually inside the movie observing in an up close and personal manner the dynamics of a very dysfunctional family who, despite the unraveling of some extremely dark skeletons are connected unconditionally by their love.
Director Jonathan Demme shoots much of the film with handheld shots that draw you into the story (compelling screenplay by Jenny Lumet) which takes place over a weekend – so while not in actual real time, the sense is a kind of a swirling, virtual real time. Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt) with the help of family and friends is frantically completing preparations for her marriage to Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), which turns out to be a non-traditional party at their traditional suburban Connecticut house, complete with an assortment of diverse family and friends many of whom, like the groom are musicians. Thus, we are treated to an assortment of some very interesting live music throughout – when not performing at the wedding party itself they are jamming in the background.
But the celebration of marriage is really just the vehicle to bring everyone together in hyperspace and introduce Rachel’s sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) who is released from her residential drug rehabilitation program to attend. Kym shows up with a couple of small overnight bags but proceeds to unpack a tractor trailer full of baggage. She does the unpacking but the contents belong to the whole Buchman family. Kym is a chain smoking, self indulgent recovering addict with a chip on one shoulder and an interesting tattoo on the other. As evidenced by her embarrassing, long-winded toast at the rehearsal dinner that was all about atoning for her own sins, she has a lengthy road to travel before achieving wellness.
The tension builds quickly and threatens to derail plans for the wedding and we eventually learn of the tragedy that has wounded the whole family and left permanent scars on their collective psyches. Their dad (Bill Irwin) tries valiantly to remain upbeat and hold things together. At one point, in a moment of levity he challenges his new son-in-law to a dish washer loading competition. Kym’s relationship with her mom (Debra Winger) plays out into a confrontational denouement before the wedding but despite the multiple train wrecks in preparation, they all manage to focus on the moment during the wedding ceremony and following party and we experience along with them a genuinely touching multicultural celebration.
In one short weekend we explore the depths of tragedy, the darkness of addiction, the search for forgiveness and redemption – all side by side with equal portions of love, tolerance and joy. Part of what makes Lumet and Demme’s work successful is the absence of Hollywood treatment – the raw moments are not exploited or sugar coated and there is no neatly wrapped conclusion. Following her confrontation with her mom, Kym never quite finds the reconciliation she seeks. As the credits descend she is on her way back to rehab – the road hopeful but very much uncertain.