Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

12 November 2008

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme's new movie Rachel Getting Married (his return to narrative features after four years) is a movie about, well, a wedding. But like so many weddings, this wedding is not all about the bride.

The movie starts with the bride's dour sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) getting out of rehab and getting picked up by her father and stepmother (theatre veterans Bill Irwin and Anna Deavere Smith). Kym is irritable and selfish from the first moment she is onscreen. The wedding is being held at the family home and the house is, of course, filled with preparations for the wedding: musicians, people arranging flowers, decorators. At the center of this wedding bustle is the bride, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt, in a fabulous, award-worthy performance).

Kym descends on this wedding, which appears to be a stress-free occasion but for her presence. All are, of course, happy that Kym is able to come to the wedding, but her acid tongue and consistently selfish attitude create awkwardness throughout the weekend that the film documents.

Rachel Getting Married is a family drama written by Jenny Lumet, daughter of legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet and the script is reminiscent of wedding/family dramas like The Celebration, After the Wedding and (more obviously, perhaps) last year's Margot at the Wedding. And the problem with Rachel Getting Married is that though it recalls all of these films it is not as good as any of them. Margot at the Wedding, in particular, is an extremely intelligent film with a fierce central performance. And, I guess what I'm saying is that Rachel Getting Married seems, more than anything else, like a Noah Baumbach tribute film that is not as good as a Noah Baumbach film.

Still, there are some lovely performances in the film. Rosemarie DeWitt (as I already mentioned) is tops as the "good" sister. Bill Irwin as the longsuffering father to these girls is really brilliant, particularly in a family confrontation in act two. Anna Deavere Smith is given very little to do, but it is nice to see her, at any rate. Oh yeah, and the girls' mother is played by Debra Winger (!) She is also very, very good, although I think her role might be a little too small for Academy consideration. Truth be told, I don't think this film has much chance of any recognition by the Academy except as a screenplay: the main character is just too abrasive. I spent the entire film wanting to lock her out of the house.