Friday, November 7, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

“I am Shiva the Destroyer and your harbinger of doom for this evening.”

Kym (Anne Hathaway) is released from rehab for her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. Although sober, Kym is still a bit shaky with deep unresolved issues which will be brought into sharp focus over the course of the weekend.

Director Jonathan Demme, having learned much from his time making documentaries, gives us a chance to view the action as if we are one of the other guests attending the wedding. The natural low-key approach gives the film a loook at feel more like a documentary than a feature film. There are several moments including the rehearsal dinner where the events unfold so naturally I wonder how much, if anything, was scripted.

Inter-cut throughout these moments is Kym’s story. Early on these don’t fit perfectly with the more natural scenes, but Demme finds a way to slowly weave them into the fabric of the film. Hathaway shines as the tough but extremely fragile young woman searching for a forgiveness from others she can’t give herself. Her current condition and the root of Kym’s issues all stem from a past tragedy which is slowly revealed over the course of the film, in mostly dysfunctional ways.

What makes this performance, and film, work so much better than something like Margot at the Wedding (which I hated) is Hathaway’s innate charm and vulnerability she gives to the character. In Margot the film conspired to give us events for the main character to act petty. Over the course of 114 minutes Kym will make several bad decisions but we never grow to hate her. She’s simply wants love and forgiveness and isn’t sure that she deserves either one.

There are some nice family dynamics on display here. I enjoyed the relationship between Kym and her overprotective father (Bill Irwin) and the dynamic between Rachel, Kym, and Rachel’s distrusting best friend Emma (Anisa George). And then there’s the complicated relationship between Rachel and her mother (Debra Winger) which boils over in one of the film’s most compelling scenes.

From time to time I attack many big budget Hollywood films for the use of shaky hand-held cameras. Part of the problem is the very nature distracts the viewer and part of the problem is it doesn’t feel natural to the glossy big budget event you are watching. Here however the documentary feel allows the use of hand-held cameras because they are our eyes walking through the events surrounding the weekend and not simply a way to save a few bucks or make something look cool. At times there’s a little too much shakiness for me, but thankfully, it never becomes distracting.

Although the more scripted scenes don’t alwasy mesh perfectly with the more documentary feel of the film, it’s filled with style, great performances, and a story that you might not enjoy but will certainly appreciate. I think everyone knows someone like Kym and the film makes great effort is showcasing her flaws, and the flaws of those around her, without judging anyone or attempting to make us feel one way or another about the characters and circumstances of the story. It’s one of the most memorable films of 2008.

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