Thursday, October 21, 2010

More Movies: Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married
Johnathan Demme, 2008

I didn't have an official preconception of Rachel Getting Married because it wasn't really on the official More Movies list, nor even on the optional More Movies list. I watched this film on the advice of my attorney. As with In Bruges, I assumed from the title that it was a delightful romantic comedy.


Rachel gets married in Rachel Getting Married, all right, but she is only a supporting character in this quirky, original drama, and her wedding isn't so much the story as the setting. The central character is her sister Kym, a charming, intelligent, and deeply troubled woman who arrives in the busy bustle of Rachel's wedding with all the grace and subtlety of a cannonball. Her family must deal with her, and she with her family, while the inexorable force that is the wedding moves forward on its unalterable schedule. Weddings are special, strange times in the life of a family, when emotions -- joy, ideally, but all the other ones as well -- run at a feverish pitch. What Rachel Getting Married is "about," to the extent it is about anything, is how families and friends adjust and adapt to deep disruptions during these most vulnerable of moments.

Rachel's wedding itself is a marvelous confection, as lovely and idealized as the most fancifal of real-world wedding cakes. The families and friends who are gathered at her father's extremely large and well-appointed house are almost absurdly articulate, talented, charming, and culturally inclusive. It's a fantasy of the Best Wedding Ever, quite pleasant to observe in and of itself, but also serving as a remarkable backdrop for Kym's troubled state of mind, the gradual revelation of her disturbing past, and the increasingly complicated family dynamics that her presence catalyzes.

This is the kind of movie where the camera mingles freely with the characters, wandering through the house and yard catching snippets of action and conversation; even if the credits didn't include a big shout-out to Robert Altman, it would be easy to see his influence on the cinematography. Ebert's review includes an apt discussion of how the camera sees the wedding through Kim's point of view, not literally but psychologically. Characters who are important to her stand out; people she is not emotionally attached to slip into the crowd. When she wanders around the house, we often see it not from her adult height but filmed very low, from the perspective of a child who grew up there. Even time is presented in a kind of filmic stream-of-consciousness, with emotionally powerful events (eg. the rehearsal dinner) occupying lots of screen time, but with casual jumps over hours of less intense events.

Although Rachel Getting Married is not a plot-based movie, it is worth mentioning that Ebert's review, the imbd summary, and the Wiki article on the film all describe the plot incorrectly. [[Spoilers Ahoy!]] All three say that Kym is on temporary release from a rehab center to attend Rachel's wedding, and that the movie ends with her return to the center. However, it is clear at numerous points in the film that Kym has been released with the expectation that she is out for good. The ending of the film, moreover, is not as simple as all that. It certainly did not look to me, either from simple observation or in considering clues we were given at the beginning of the film, like it ended with Kym returning to the rehab center. In assuming she was, I think people are missing a major ambiguity. This film doesn't end with a simple period, it ends with a hanging question mark.

Prognosis: * * * * -- I've had so much to say about this movie that I haven't even mentioned that it is delightful and sorrowful both, immersive, charming, dazzling, and a shoo-in candidate for my best-of-the-decade list. I mean, if I were to make a best-of-the-decade list.


Elaine said...

I believe that Kym IS returning to the rehab center, realizing that she has more work to do, and a place to do it; however, there is a hint of hope that she has found her way...

'Shoe-in', Michael? That is so cute.

I watched this alone; too chick-flick for my husband. Went well with stitching on a binding...

Eric said...

Great review. Like we discussed, for me the Debra Winger performance was outstanding, particularly in that climactic mother - daughter confrontation scene.

Michael5000 said...

I didn't mention it in the original review, because I'm not a total fanboy or anything, but OMG, Robyn Hitchcock's in it!!!

Melissa said...

I really enjoy your reviews. I keep seeing this movie pop up on Netflix, and I was ignoring it--until now!

The Last Samurai also must go on the to-read list.

DrSchnell said...

I came down here to the comments to say - dude! How can you not mention Robyn Hitchcock's appearance. But you saved it for the comments section.