Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

While Rachel’s getting married, Anne Hathaway is running away with the film.

Thessaloniki FF

Rachel Getting Married, directed by Jonathan Demme, is a convincing melodrama about a family in a constant state of rebuilding and self destruction. The film has a first-feature-film quality about it, at times like a high quality home movie, at times self indulgent like a European film d’auteur and these conceits can detract from the whole. However, the stellar performance by Anne Hathaway carries the story along, and is the unrelenting focus of this work. This is a familiar premise: a far flung family comes together for the wedding of the good daughter, Rachel, all the time fearing the return of the black sheep. The latter is played by Anne Hathaway. She is Kym Buchman who has been released from rehab just in time to come home to a house bustling with happy prenuptial activity – just the kind of activity guaranteed to bring out the self-destructive and resentful instincts of the girl. Hathaway plays the character with demonic energy and spot on accuracy, sending shivers of recognition through the viewer with her first utterances. We have all known people like Kym Buchman, but if we are not related to them, we tend to push them out of our consciousness as quickly as possible. Here we are forced to look Kym in the face, hear her words and

Click image for video clip and interview

Click image for video clip and interview

understand her anguish. It is one of the great powers of cinema to make us do this, and Demme uses his skills and long years of experience to bring it out so effortlessly, in the service of an intelligent and intense script by Jenny Lumet. The film has its problems which inevitably detract from the effect. There are times that the cinema verité quality can be overbearing, the arrival at home by Kym in which the camera flows nervously from room to room becomes tiresome, as does an extended sequence later in the film centered around a dishwasher. What I found most distracting, however, were the cultural implications of what was going on. This was a film about a marriage, one of the most characteristic events in the sociological construct of a culture. Whole books of anthropology have been written about the marriage customs of various peoples around the world, because the rituals reveal so much about the relationship of individuals in the group. To be sure, there are scenes in this film where marriage customs are used to bring the story forward, for example, some toasts at the dinner table, and when Kym fights to be Maid of Honor, but in general, the marriage rituals depicted in this film are strangely alien and difficult to decipher. This is a family that is ruthlessly and maniacally multi-cultural: the bride, played masterfully by Rosemarie DeWitt, is white and blonde, the groom a dark skinned black man from Hawaii. The dresses for the bride and bridesmaids are saris, and the ceremonies are a mad pastiche of borrowed customs thrown together incoherently, including just about anything that could be dreamed up except the upper middle class Judeo-Christian rituals that one might expect. This obsessive foreignness in itself seemed to be of significance, implying some kind of self-denial, some fleeing from the self that this family is enacting, yet the strangeness of this wedding is never discussed, and is presented as though completely normal. It is as though one of the guests at the wedding had arrived dressed as Napoleon, and nobody even noticed. What’s more, the situation seemed forced at times. At one point it is revealed the bride, Kym’s absolutely-perfect older sister, is already pregnant. When this news comes out, her father breaks into immediate gleeful cheering, and rushes to embrace his daughter and prospective son-in-law, i.e., the black man whom he has just met that has knocked up his daughter. It just doesn’t ring true. These oddities seem to be a missed opportunity to give the family more depth and nuance. Yes, we just elected Obama as president, but we haven’t gotten to the Promised Land just yet, and Mr. Buchman could have at least stepped back a moment to reassess the situation. Other characterizations are also left to wither on the vine. Kym’s new love interest, the Best Man Kieran, played by Mather Zickel, is never developed satisfactorally. However, the most important element in the story is Anne Hathaway’s character, and this person is presented with great skill and nuance. I left the cinema wondering about the implications of her actions on the family, and that is a testiment to the efficacy of this performance.

May 9, 2009 Posted by | cinema | , , , | Leave a comment