October 24, 2008

Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married

In ‘Rachel Getting Married’ you join a middle-class Connecticut family for the week leading up to the younger sister, Rachel’s, wedding. To describe it that way brings to mind wedding planners and bridezillas and an east coast version of ‘Father of the Bride’ where the whole point is to throw the perfect cookie-cutter wedding where the groom is irrelevant and all that really matters is who catches the bouquet. But in actuality, ‘Rachel Getting Married’ is the beautiful, heart-wrenching, almost flawlessly told story of a family:
  • There’s the big sister – she’s screwed up.
  • There’s the younger sister, who’s getting married – she loves her big sister as only a sister can, somehow unequivocally supportive yet totally judgmental.
  • There’s the father – he takes care of his daughters the best way he knows how, with food and money.
  • There’s the stepmother – she stepped into this family when it was at its most broken, and silently holds it together.
  • There's the mother - she's barely present, but her daughters feel her everywhere.
  • There’s the fiancé – he knows and loves the big sister even though he’s never met her, and has this relationship with his father-in-law that’s based on jokes and just a little amount of tension.
  • There’s the younger sister’s best friend – she’s been there through it all, and can’t quite muster the sister-like supportiveness, so she's just judgmental.
These are characters that make so much sense, it’s like you’ve met them before. You know this family. There's one particularly true-family moment that has stayed with me: Everyone (the family and a slew of bridal party friends) are cleaning up after lunch, and a competition arises between the father and the fiancé about how to properly load a dishwasher. While being timed, they each take a turn, throwing dishes around, rinsing them off, loading them up – it’s crazy and loud and fun and there’s cheering and laughter, until somewhere in the middle, the father is reminded of his son who has died. The family instantly senses it, and everything gets quiet; the outsiders pick up that something has changed, whether or not they know what or why. And everyone leaves the kitchen, leaving Kim – the older sister, played by Anne Hathaway, who had inadvertently caused this turn of events – sitting on a stool. Her sister’s fiancé is leaving the room, and he stops behind her and puts his hand on her back for just the right amount of time. He doesn’t try to talk, and he doesn’t do this gesture as an afterthought. He's saying “I don’t know you that well, and I’ll never be able to grasp how much you hurt right now, but I see you, and I am sorry.” It was perfect.

The beauty – and power – of this movie is that it throws you right into the middle of all these characters’ lives with little to no exposition, so it feels authentic. You’re participating in this week. You are at that rehearsal dinner: laughing along with the inside jokes you understand, appreciating that someone else gets the ones you don’t, getting to know this family the way you get to know your future in-laws. There’s one scene that felt too expository – we had been hearing about a tragedy involving the sister’s brother ‘Ethan’. I feel like the specifics weren’t necessary to grasp what it did to this family, so when Anne Hathaway tells the story – in the scene they’ll probably show when she’s nominated for an Academy Award – it feels slightly out of line with the rest of the movie. But with that one exception, there’s a lack of a 4th wall that feels organic, and the occasionally jarring hand-held footage lends itself to that.

Music is a motif throughout, with some pretty beautiful scenes, the most lovely of which is Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, who, as Rachel’s fiancé, sings Neil Young’s ‘Unknown Legend’ acapella – solely to his bride though he’s in front of dozens of people – during his vows.

I’m getting a little teary-eyed over here. So let me just move on and jump on the Anne-Hathaway-Was-Amazing-And-Oscar-Caliber train.

It’s not that I’ve seen her in all that much, or particularly relate her to her ‘Princess Diaries’ persona (Really – even though those were Disney movies, the whole idea was that she was kind of alternative and un-princess like. Plus, with ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Devil Wears Prada’ – it’s actually like we’ve been talking about how impressive it is to watch her be outside of her comfort zone for longer than she was in that comfort zone. Of course, I may feel differently if - I mean after - I see ‘Ella Enchanted.’), but I was blown away by her, as she completely disappeared inside that character.

8.5 Twix bars. Go see this movie. Seriously.


Sarah said...

Great!!! I wanted to see this, and now I'm definately going to see it! Thanks for another great movie review!