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Rachel Getting Married: Getting Lost in an Inescapable Reality

Sometimes film serves as an escapist media form. However, sometimes film reflects an inescapable reality so convincingly that you recognize everything around you, and you feel transplanted into this new world… but reality is rarely forgiving or heartwarming. Pretty soon, you realize you’ve escaped your reality, but become trapped into a reality that puts the mirror up to your own. That’s Rachel Getting Married in a nutshell, a story that boasts some fantastic performances, some inventive execution all around, but first and foremost it boasts a whopper of a script by Jenny Lumet that feels so personal that it verges on uncomfortable– although I don’t think the film is autobiographical, just really truthfully written.

We meet Kym (Anne Hathaway) as she’s checking out of rehab in order to attend her sister (Rosemarie DeWitt)’s wedding. It’s her first time seeing her family in a long time and, as siblings are prone to do, there is some significant competition for attention. Subconscious errors in judgment are made, skeletons are brought out of the closet, the parents (Bill Irwin and Debra Winger) attempt to keep the ship sailing smooth… but who really knows what will happen to Kym if her buttons are continually pushed? In the midst of all this, we witness a wedding– a strange quirky wedding in its own right, but certainly fun in its embrace of the unconventional.

By its description, the movie sounds as if it could be either a Juno-esque comedy written overtly quirky in order to draw attention to its indie hipster dialogue, or a cliched melodrama about suburban families and their dark secrets. It dodges both of these types and toes the line nicely. The script makes this film– it’s catchy enough to be quotable, but not catchy enough to seem unrealistic. There just aren’t many people with a great ear for honest dialogue nowadays, so when you’re sure you’re listening to some, it stands out. It’s a testament to the strength of the Original Screenplay Oscar field when both this film and Synecdoche New York are left out of the mix.

Anne Hathaway gives the performance of her career here. That’s not saying too much in a short career mostly chock full of comedies, but she shows surprising depth in some scenes that require the utmost focus. Other performers stand out to us– I’ve been a fan of Bill Irwin since I saw him on the stage a couple of years ago in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and here he gives some unconventional line reads and makes the role of the father unlike any father role we’ve seen in a movie like this. Finally, Rosemarie DeWitt as the title character… this time, it’s not a testament to the field, it’s simply a crime that she was not nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. I would watch the movie again just to focus on her character’s story arc. We see her as patient and understanding at the beginning, then she snaps, then she’s angry for a while, but at the end, despite all of the enormous tension between her and Kym, she still loves her and wishes her well. Without an actress like this in the role, the forgiveness of Kym does not make sense. It was the best performance by a supporting actress this year.

Finally, there’s Jonathan Demme. In a world that increasingly prefers to use digital, here comes a man who tells a story where using digital to shoot makes sense. It’s treated more like a documentary in terms of the framing and cinematography, and helps us feel like we’ve been thrown into this mess– we’re now part of the family. We root for the family to pull it all together, and the ending is satisfying without selling out and going for an easy feel-good moment. Then we remember we are watching a movie, and understand that by feeling ourselves within the family, we are recognizing our own families, for better and worse. A movie that causes you to lose yourself in another world and see your own at the same time– that’s good storytelling. This was one of the best movies of the year.

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~ by russellhainline on February 17, 2009.

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