October 28, 2008

REVIEW: Rachel Getting Married (B+)

The similarities between Rachel Getting Married and last year's Margot at the Wedding didn't occur to me until I left the theater, but it was a realization that explained the detached, annoyed feeling I had as I sat through this movie. Turns out I don't really care about the problems of self-absorbed, upper-class, dysfunctional families who have oh-so-hip weddings in the backyards of their picturesque East Coast homes. My inability to access the emotions of these characters doesn't necessarily make Rachel Getting Married a bad movie, but it does, as evidenced in my score below, prevent me from calling it a great one. While highly superior to Margot, it left me with the same bad taste in my mouth, which was made even more sour because I was really hoping to like it.

It may sound a bit ridiculous if you know their respective styles well, but I still confuse the films of Ted Demme with those of his uncle, Jonathan Demme, despite the fact that the former died in 2002 of a drug-induced heart attack. A shame, because he appeared to be the more intriguing talent in the family; in the last 20 years I consider only three of Jonathan Demme's films notable: The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Philadelphia (1993), and The Agronomist (2003). With Rachel Getting Married, Demme returns to the more comedic notes of his 80's films, making it contemporary for today's audience by injecting the comedy into a tragedy. As in Margot at the Wedding, we're meant to laugh at the characters' pain.

Although Anne Hathaway (Get Smart, The Devil Wears Prada) owns Rachel Getting Married, she is in fact Kym, Rachel's younger sister. With permission to leave her drug rehab facility for the weekend of Rachel's wedding, Kym finds herself predictably uncomfortable with her dysfunctional family, the wedding party, and even the wedding guests. In order to mask her insecurities she jokes about her experience in rehab, but nobody finds her attitude funny, especially not her overbearing family. Awkward arguments and even domestic violence lead up to the big wedding day, which we experience, like everything else, in shaky, grainy handheld video. Why? I suppose so we'd think we were watching a home video or documentary about dysfunctional families and not another pretentious indie film about them.

While there wasn't much for me to like about the story and production style of Rachel Getting Married, I can't deny that it was superbly acted and sharply written by first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney). With unpredictable dialogue and a couple of fresh scenes (the dishwasher loading competition stands out), Lumet almost succeeded in making the movie less of a cliché
. Sometimes I felt it was a little overwritten because I couldn't follow the torrid pace of the conversations, but that may have had more to do with Demme's direction than with screenplay.

The acting may be the one area of the film where Demme did not do too much, and it's on fine display here. As sister, mother, and father to our main character, respectively, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger, and Bill Irwin each provide some memorably emotional moments. I'm puzzled by the casting choice of Tunde Adebimpe of the indie rock group TV on the Radio; it seems like he was just playing himself here. Although he has some limited acting experience, I wonder if his character (the groom-to-be) couldn't have added more emotion to the film in the hands of a different actor. Hathaway, who here looks like Madame Tutli Putli from last year's Academy Award-nominated short, continues to show that her true talent was on display in Brokeback Mountain much more than it was in The Princess Diaries franchise or The Devil Wears Prada. She will almost certainly receive award consideration for a performance in a year that has so far only featured a handful of notable dramatic performances from both men and women.

Another tragic family portrait...

It's been an interesting middle third of the year for me. In the past four months I've been to four weddings in four different cities (San Francisco, Minneapolis, San Diego, Boston). All different cities, all different styles (one officiated in Spanish, one featuring traditional Jewish rituals like the breaking of the glass), and yet none of them resembled anything like the tragedies in Rachel Getting Married. I'm not saying that the characters are unrealistic, but to the extremes that the story was taken here, I just couldn't get into it. There will certainly be people who can relate to the family relations in Rachel Getting Married, but I found myself appreciating only a few of the film's elements, so it ended up being a good movie that I just didn't like. Oh well, at least the music at the wedding was different from the usual playlist.

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 6
Music - 5
Social Significance - 5

Total: 44/50= 88% = B+


  1. As you know, we're pretty much on the same page here. I'd agree with you on the dishwasher scene, but MINOR SPOILER going along with my timeline issues, when I sat back and thought about it, what are the odds that little bro's plate was in the cupboard for THAT long and was never discovered? I mean, I know they're rich ans likely have loads of plates, but that's the kind of minor thing that bugs me. END SPOILER

    I though Ted was John's brother?

    And here's another case where I don't get the 5/5 on the social sig scale... :D

  2. Haha, I know what you mean about the plate. Goes back to what you say in your review about the number of years that passed. I guess I can see them keeping it, it was just a coincidence that SHE happened to put right on top of the extra ones there. Call it a lazy transition out of the scene, albeit kind of a clever one.

    Well as I said, I'm fully owning my confusion with the Demmes, but according to IMDb it's Uncle/Nephew.

    I go overboard talking about how this movie meant little to me, but in the big picture I really do think it has social significance in giving people insights into things drug addiction and recovery, interracial marriage, overcoming grief after a tragedy, and the dynamics of the American family. It's important (again, only my opinion) in the sense that these are real-world themes and issues that a number of people could potentially relate to.

  3. Wow - all this time I thought they were brothers. (Not like it matters all that much.) My bad. I liked the promise of Ted - I'm sure many would agree that Beautiful Girls is one of those underrated, underseen, totally rewatchable movies. As a bonus, you get to share the impure thoughts that Hutton has for Natalie Portman! ;)

    Anyway, I still say you're a pushover when it comes to the s.s. scale. All a movie needs to have is some hot-button issues...

    I'm just razzin', of course.

  4. Between that, Who's the Man?, Life, and Blow, it would have been interesting to see what he could have done next. Not like those three are classics or anything, but the point is that he was pretty varied.

    No worries for keeping me honest! One reason my scores lean higher is because I subtract from the totals in each category; the default is a 5/5. It's true that some serious issues will solidify a higher s.s. grade, but I think even something like Happy-Go-Lucky is a 5/5, even though on the surface it appears it's a romantic comedy that could feature Cameron Diaz or Reese Witherspoon. Fact is, there is so much more under the surface in that movie (that is significant in society), as is the case, I guess, with Rachel Getting Married.

  5. Excellent review and well defended as always.

    But I am loathe to admit that I disagree with your summary judgement. This film is 'unquestionably' for me one of the best films of 2008, and has rightly received superlative reviews in the professional ranks. This (again for me) was a perceptive, spectacularly acted and written film that had a lasting emotional resonance. It's Demme's best film (easily) since THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and one of the greatest in the 'wedding genre.'

    Does this mean that I will soon be appearing in Minneapolis to engage in a 'duel to the death' with my dear friend Dan Getahaun? Hardly. We're on the same page a lot, we just can't be all the time. LOL!

  6. It's a duel, Sam!

    I know Rachel was celebrated by you and several others, and I take nothing away from that. As I say, I can call it a good movie and still admit not really liking it.

    I didn't think about it in the context of wedding movies (other than Margot), but it definitely has to be included as one of the better ones of the last decade or so.

  7. I'm seeing a screening of this later this morning, Daniel. I didn't read your entire review, but that's a nice opening paragraph.

  8. Thanks, Evan. I'll definitely be interested to hear what you think. I'm with the positive consensus here, just not the popular consensus.

  9. Funny. Even though you gave it a FAR MORE substantial grade than I did, some of our reactions are very similar.

    Suffice to say that I LOATHED RGM. JUST HATED IT.

    You don't even want to hear what my companion said....

    BTW, Danny, did you get the e-mail I sent you the other day? It was Friday, I believe. If you did, then that's fine. No worries.

    But I need to know if you did.

    It was important, shall we aay...

  10. Yes, actually I do want to hear what your companion said. I'm going to read your review ASAP.

    And yes, I've replied to your email - just this morning.

  11. OK, Danny.

    Thanks for rhe e-mail. TOTALLY RELIEVED.

    Um, my ex said that after this, he would NEVER pay to see another JONATHAN DEMME film again.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

    I didn't have high hopes for RGM. Do you know why I decided on this, actually? Just because of some good things I'd heard AND the fact that it was playing at one of my favourite theatres.

    If it hadn't been in that particular neighbourhood (great restaurants & the like), I likely would have passed.

    Even though I had a favourable impression of ANNE HATHAWAY in GET SMART (she was surprisingly good - now I'm thinking that it was just because she played opposite STEVE CARELL - who realistically would make ANYONE look good in a comedy), if I NEVER saw her in anything else, it wouldn't bother me A BIT.

    I should also state for the record that if anyone receives serious awards consideration for this film (with the possible exception of DEBRA WINGER) - ESPECIALLY an Oscar nomination - I will vomit copiously every day for weeks on end.

    My ex also said that he should start picking the movies that we go to. (It's generally about 70/30 my way simply because I know more about film.)


    50/50? Sure.

    But not all of them.

    Obviously that was a joke on his part.


  12. "I will vomit copiously every day for weeks on end".

    lol, that needs to make its way into a review. What an image...

  13. Must agree w/ Miranda here..... BLAH! I couldnt wait to leave. 94% "top critics" on RT. I must have missed something because I was utterly annoyed the whole movie.

  14. Totally.

    And I got your text. I think as the only person in the theater it's your sworn duty to stay no matter how bad it is. That's how I was able to sweat through Redbelt.

    Although I think RGM was more "annoying" than it was "bad".

  15. I kind of feel bad for loving this. But I did, and I do, so. *shrug*

  16. Well, Nick, you and over 90% of RT critics feel the same, so I wouldn't lose any sleep over it - I'M on the wrong side of this one!

  17. Nicky, not to worry.

    I'm TOTALLY on Danny and Beav's side. But I'm sure that NOBODY minds if you love this.

    No big deal...

    Well, I should say I'm SORT OF Danny's side. As I look at his review, I see a lot of misgivings and reservations. There are any number of things that he takes the movie to task on.

    But he still gives it a B+.

    I'd easily give it an F.

    That's just me, though.

    But you love what you love, Nicky. You don't have to explain or apologize.

    It is what it is, honey....

  18. Yeah I tried to swallow my distaste for the film in the hopes of awarding an objective grade, but I can't deny this is one movie I'm not going to actively seek out for repeated viewings.

  19. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED is one of the best Films of 2008. Period. Nick, don't you dare feel sorry for loving it. Have you seen the names of some of the critics who loved the film! It's an intense, brilliantly acted, written and observed film.

    I actually feel sorry for those who don't like it or had issues with it. It's really the kind of film we are grateful for going to the movies for.

    94% at RT. Darn tooting.

  20. Sorry if I came on too strong Dan. There is something bothering me, but it has nothing to do with you.

  21. LOL, not at all, Sam. I always like the passion behind your comments. That being said, I must still admit RGM was not one of the movies I gave thanks for last week! But I obviously get what you're saying.

    I guess there's gotta be at least a couple of movies each year for which I veer from the popular opinion.

  22. That is more than fair Dan. Still your B plus rating of it is most acceptable from the perspective of anyone who may love it.


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