Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Director:  Jonathan Demme
Cast:  Anne HathawayRosemarie DeWittDebra Winger
Plot:  A young woman who has been in and out from rehab for the past 10 years returns home for the weekend for her sister's wedding.

Genre:  Drama / Romance
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Leading Actress. Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice).

Runtime:  113min
Rating:  M18
for language and brief sexuality.

Rachel Getting Married is Jonathan Demme’s best feature film in a decade since Beloved (1998).  He rose to popularity in the 1980s with notable films such as Melvin and Howard (1980) and Married to the Mob (1988).  But his peak and recognition were to come in the early 1990s with Silence of the Lambs (1991), one of the best psychological thrillers ever made in American cinema, and Philadelphia (1993), one of the first mainstream films to deal with the subject matter of AIDS. 

Despite making relatively good movies, Demme is never considered to be in the league of directorial greats because he is just not consistent enough.  Rachel Getting Married is a special film because it is shot with a handheld camera Cloverfield-style, but with better focus and character framing.  This technique makes the film feel naturalistic and real, and provides an intimate look at an ordinary American household making last-minute preparations for a wedding. 

As the title suggests, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married.  Her former-drug-addict-now-undergoing-rehabilitation-sister Kimberly (Anne Hathaway) returns back home for the few days of reunion and celebrations, renewing sibling rivalry and jealousy as past and present family issues collide and resurface.

Hathaway gives the performance of her career thus far, showing her acting chops with aplomb right from the first shot.  She easily immerses herself into the character which often requires her to swear and to stir a hornet’s nest through inappropriate comments made in a closed but sensitive environment that ironically pushes her to dangerous limits.  An Oscar win is unlikely but she deserves a nomination from the Academy.  The ensemble cast of supporting actors and actresses all give a commendable job, especially DeWitt and Bill Irwin (who plays the father of Rachel).  

Demme directs the dramatic scenes with enough intensity to force viewers to partake in the joyous mood of the wedding through the occasional bursts of melodious music coming from the self-formed wedding band in the movie, as well as in the plight of some of its characters, especially Kimberly, through the heated conflicts that somewhat dampens the mood of the occasion. 

The handheld camera technique is perhaps a double-edged sword.  There will be some who may not appreciate Demme’s vision, labeling the motion picture as queasy, boring, and amateurish.  Those who do will savor its fine qualities as a film that takes cliché themes and narrative predictabilities to a whole new upper level.

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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