Z To A: Rachel Getting Married (2008)

(Z To A is an ongoing series: cumulative reviews of my DVD collection in reverse alphabetical order.)

rachel getting married 01

Plot Synopsis: When Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns to the Buchman family home for the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), she brings a long history of personal crises, family conflict and tragedy along with her. The wedding couple’s abundant party of friends and relations have gathered for a joyful weekend of feasting, music and love. But Kym- with her biting one-liners and flair for bombshell drama- is a catalyst for long-simmering tensions in the family dynamic.

– From DVD Production Notes

Rachel Getting Married is the best and worst of a family compressed into a few days. It’s not surprising that I own it, since Z To A has had a recurring theme of families in crisis (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Sense and Sensibility, The War Zone and Winter’s Bone, to name a few) and there will be more to come. However, what makes this film stand out is that it feels real, as if you’re actually watching something happening in real time.

Part of this is due to how Married was shot, which is somewhere between a live theater piece and documentary. All of the scenes took place on location, with one or two cameramen following the actors around while they played out the action and improvised. There was no score, just the sound of the wedding band rehearsing and performing as well as the ambience of the outdoors. The result is something like a Dogme 95 film, where you’re never quite sure what the camera is going to capture or when it is going to cut away. It demands your constant attention.

There are actors in this film and there are non-actors. There are many musicians and some of the crew disguised as wedding guests. It’s chaotic but Married keeps the story at the forefront, in particular the relationships between Kym (Hathaway), Rachel (DeWitt) and their parents Paul (Bill Irwin) and Abby (Debra Winger). There are fights and misunderstandings and moments where you’re seeing things that remind you of your own family and relationships. I think the filmmakers understood this factor, since one of the trailer’s taglines was: “This is not your family. But this is your family.”

In my case I understood the Buchmans on a gut level. Although my family hasn’t been through anything like them, it simply didn’t matter. They seemed real, for better or worse.

For the most part the film follows Kym, who is quickly defined as the outsider or “black sheep” of the family. Hathaway captures a character that reminds me of one of the worst headspaces you could find yourself: a state where your self-loathing is so uncontrollable you need to be validated constantly. However, when she engages with anyone she can’t stop being hateful and sabotage herself. This comes to a head over and over again until the main event, and by then we have learned enough to understand why. In one unbroken take Kym explains the worst thing that ever happened to her and her family. To say the feelings around it are unresolved would be… an understatement. Even worse, what has happened is public knowledge.

“It can’t be easy, everybody knowing your troubles like that,” Abby observes at one point. Of course she is leaving herself out of the equation. The matter weighs heavily on Kym and the others, and it seems that they are still dealing with the aftermath.

What’s interesting about Married is that it doesn’t simply dwell on the worst (which, strangely, reminds me of Margot At The Wedding). It also captures people at their best- continuing to care and look out for one another during a difficult time. There is humor, sweetness and patience among the supporting players that watch the drama unfold, in particular Gary’s 2nd wife Carol (Anna Deveare Smith), Rachel’s groom Sidney (TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe) and best man Kieran (Mather Zickel). In the end the film concludes like it would in real life. All you know is that everyone loves one another and wants things to work out, but it’s going to be difficult.

I happened to see this film with my mother and sisters in early 2009. I’m glad we saw it together and that we did (and still) talk about it. It was also a memorable experience because the group behind us was really confused when the credits began to roll. “That was really weird,” one girl said loudly. “Where was Kate Hudson?”

We had to leave before we started to laugh. They thought that they were at a screening for Bride Wars (2009).

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3 thoughts on “Z To A: Rachel Getting Married (2008)

  1. It was the first time I saw another side of Anne Hathaway, playing a much more serious role. In my opninion she pulled if off, and surprised me in some ways.

  2. Pingback: Z To A: Ceremony (2010) | The Holy Shrine

  3. Pingback: Z To A: The Celebration (1998) | The Holy Shrine

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