Monday, February 23, 2009

Rachel Getting Married: Uncomfortable in Connecticut

There’s nothing like a wedding to bring out the best and worst in families.

Rachel Getting Married, directed by Jonathan Demme, is set in upper middle class, comfortable Connecticut. Grinding poverty is not a factor in this family’s conflicts.

The drama centres on rehabilitation, not just of its central character, but of the whole family. Neuroses stalk the halls of the home that is the setting for the celebrations: sibling rivalry and jealousy, father/daughter, mother/daughter. More baggage than LA International Airport.

Kym is on leave from drug rehab to attend sister Rachel’s wedding to Sidney. Rachel is a high achiever par excellence, Ms Perfection. She is finishing her PhD in Psychology, arguably the worst possible background for dealing with a recovering sister. In fact all the family are guilty of over-analysis. All of them know the 12 steps of rehab by heart. Kym takes the one called “making amends’ to new territory in her speech to the pre-nuptial dinner. Echoes of many an embarrassing family moment on these public occasions for many in the audience.

Anne Hathaway as Kym is magnificent. Her striking appearance shifts between Liza Minnelli, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Keira Knightley and Audrey Tautou. Some company! She was too young for Twin Peaks but was made for it.

Kym keeps saying she’s not in crisis anymore. Tell that to the Mercedes Benz! The thirteenth step must be fit an airbag. She must have been a real delight when, 16 and stoned out of her mind, she drove off a bridge with fatal results. Connecticut is close to Chappaquiddick where Edward Kennedy had a similar accident to end his Presidential ambitions. Talking of US Presidents, the married couple are settling in Hawaii, a very topical place to have a mixed-race family. It’s a multi-racial event celebrating the best of 21st Century colour-blind America. In this film everyone comes to dinner.

The father Paul, (Bill Irwin) is an incredibly caring parent who is very protective of his brood. He is also a mediator, a role that comes naturally to someone who sees good in everyone. He is a hugger and toucher, forever reaching out to people in both the literal and physical senses. Kym feels suffocated by his over protective instincts.

Their estranged mother Abby (Debra Winger) mother is the only one who seems incapable of emotional contact or verbalising her feelings. Her only demonstrative response to the personal relations battlefield is a right hook.

Emma (Anisa George) is Rachel’s best friend and Kym’s rival for her affections. She is also Kym’s number one critic. When things are cooling down, Emma can open up a new fighting front.

Kieran (Mather Zickel), the best man and Kym’s romantic interest fits perfectly into this family culture. They meet at a group session for recovering addicts. He is another mediator in stark contrast to Emma.

Overall the male characters get off lightly in this film. Their major conflict centres on the dishwasher with father and son-in-law jousting for Rachel’s affections.

The wedding has an Indian theme that complements the muso culture that flows through the film. The preparations and ceremonies are filled with a wide range of musicians and singers rehearsing and performing. Apparently most of them are friends of Demme or Jenny Lumet, the screenwriter who is a grand daughter of Lena Horne. Sidney even sings a Neil Young number during the wedding vows.

The jerkiness of the so-called hand-held cameras was a nuisance at times, detracting rather than adding to the intimacy. Sony Pictures have the wherewithal to do better with these techniques. The early scenes use a series of close ups that achieve this immediacy much more effectively.

The movie is possibly 15 minutes too long. It seems that every one of Demme’s circle had to perform more than once and give at least one speech. A bit more background on why this family became dysfunctional may have been a better use of time. The parental break-up and Kym’s addiction remain murky players in the drama.

Kym asks who they want her to be now. If you enjoy domestic drama, don’t miss the chance to make up your own mind about her possible futures. It’s not quite a happy ending but it ends on a note of hope. Jonathan Demme has created a rich experience with first class performances.

There is lots of detail for the movie buffs at the Sony Pictures official website that is one of the best.

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