Monday, October 27, 2008

From the Archive: "Rachel Getting Married" Film Review

Film Rating: A

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Rachel Getting Married."

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Rachel Getting Married"
Originally published October 27th, 2008

I’m not a big fan of the tired, repetitive “family dysfunction” genre; usually, they feel unrealistic, cheesy, or self-indulgent, and family dysfunction is too often used for comedy when the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to humor.  In Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, family dysfunction is the core subject, centered around the bride’s sister Kym a recovering addict.  The most fascinating, involving scenes are those of the family and their struggles, but large portions of the film are spent with the wedding party and seeing various steps in the wedding; the rehearsal dinner, toasts, dancing, etc.  By getting to know the family and their traditions so intimately, the dysfunction aspect not only becomes more fascinating, but avoids the common pitfalls of the genre.  It’s one of those rare films where everything clicks; it works on multiple levels, and can be both funny and heartbreaking in the same scene. 

Anne Hathaway stars as Kym, a recovering drug addict with a handful of personality problems, who is let out of rehab for the weekend to attend her sister’s wedding.  The film is essentially a study of her character, but also of the family as a whole and the effect Kym has on her sister and father.  There are plenty of plot details I could reveal without technically “spoiling” the movie, but the progression of the storyline is so involving and fascinating that I’ll leave it to the viewer to discover.  Ultimately, the film traces a three day period, from Kym’s arrival at the family to her return to rehab.

The most amazing aspect of the film is the acting; everyone does a terrific job, but Hathaway is the one to single out for her deep, lived-in, haunting performance as Kym.  There’s been a lot of Oscar buzz around the actress regarding the role, and she absolutely deserves the award; apart from Heath Ledger in Dark Knight, this is the best performance I’ve seen all year.  Hathaway does plenty of impressive acting with her dialogue and emotional scenes, but it’s the subtle moments that define the performance.  There are scenes where everyone else is celebrating or talking, and the camera will focus on Kym in the background.  Hathaway doesn’t have to say anything or make any gestures, but you can tell the character is troubled and can almost hear what’s on her mind.  The most acclaimed performances are ones where an actor or actress imitates a real person, but I believe the most impressive ones are the portrayals where an actor creates a character from scratch and completely inhabits the person.  Hathaway does this with apparent ease.

The other standout performances include Rosemarie DeWitt’s effective portrayal of bride Rachel, who has conflicting feelings about Kym, and Bill Irwin as their loving father.  Irwin’s performance is the glue that connects the character-study parts of the film to the wedding-celebration moments, and he’s excellent in the role.  There are plenty of other excellent performances that I won’t go into in the interest of space, but suffice to say that every character, from a mixture of fine acting and great writing, feels real and authentic.

In fact, the film makes you feel like a part of the party.  Not only do you get to know everyone involved with the wedding, but small, seemingly pointless scenes like the father and the groom having a dishwasher-loading contest become great fun.  The film invites you to be part of the proceedings.  To enhance this effect, the film was shot entirely on handheld cameras (or using cameras that produce this effect) so that it feels like a home movie. 

Ultimately, the best parts of the film are the intense scenes that analyze Kym and her relationship with the family.  Her addictions and mental problems feel very real, and her journey in the film is extremely powerful.  She is both the protagonist and the antagonist; it’s a feat that is difficult for any film to pull off, but is achieved wonderfully.  When the film doesn’t focus on Kym’s struggles, it spends time immersing you in the culture of the family.  It’s thought provoking, and will stay with you long after leaving the theater.  Rachel Getting Married isn’t a film for everyone, but I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys independent, art-house fare.  It’s one of the best films of the year, and is worth seeing for, if nothing else, Hathaway’s amazing performance. 

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