Rachel Getting Married Review
For all its box office success, not to mention its multiple Oscars, The Silence of the Lambs looks, eighteen years later, very much an aberration in Jonathan Demme’s directorial career. Up until then, he was best known for character comedies, non-patronising looks at relatively ordinary people, such as Melvin and Howard and Citizens’ Band. That’s not to say he couldn't do dark: early on, he made an efficient Hitchcockian suspense thriller in Last Embrace and he mixed light and dark to great effect in Something Wild, which is one of his very best films. I’m not going to knock Silence - it’s an excellent film but one that seems the work of a different filmmaker. Demme’s previous brush with the major studios had been disastrous: Swing Shift, a personal project for its star Goldie Hawn, had been taken out of Demme’s hands, been recut and had bombed. Now, after Silence, Demme was suddenly on the A-list. Philadelphia, while certainly moving, is a timid film hamstrung by its need to play to a wide, and presumably ignorant and homophobic, audience. I haven’t seen the literary adaptation Beloved, nor his remakes of Charade (The Truth About Charlie) and The Manchurian Candidate, but none of them seem to have enhanced his reputation. Demme has kept close to his roots in his documentary work, and something of that sensibility is visible in Rachel Getting Married. A small-scale black comedy, made on a lowish budget…is it a revival of the old Demme?
Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) may be the one getting married, but our central character is her younger sister Kym (Anne Hathaway). She’s the first person we see, being collected from her rehab centre and taken to her family’s house where the wedding preparations are in full swing. A recovering addict, chain-smoking non-stop, Kym is an uneasy presence to her sister and her parents and Rachel’s husband to be (Tunde Abepimpe, lead singer of TV On the Radio). One of the first things she does is sleep with the best man. However, Kym clearly still has issues, as her family does with her – can they get through this supposedly happy family occasion?
One of the thank-yous in the end credits goes to the late Robert Altman. Working from a script by Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney), Demme has clearly learned a few lessons from Altman. Shot with multiple cameras in HD Video, often handheld, Rachel Getting Married (which was called in production Dancing with Shiva, from Kym’s speech at the rehearsal) is, for all its concentration on a single character, an ensemble piece in Altmanesque style. However, Demme has always had a more benevolent sensibility than Altman did, and that’s not always to the film’s advantage.
The film stands or falls on your liking or disliking for the characters, Kym especially. Hathaway (Oscar nominated for this role) doesn’t play her for easy sympathy, and Lumet avoids most of the obvious sentimental shortcuts. There is no cure for this obviously damaged woman by the end of this film, but it does end on a hopeful note. Although Rachel and Kym are frequently at loggerheads, Lumet and Demme does show that blood is still thicker than water in a late, surprisingly intimately filmed sequence where Rachel helps Kym out of a crisis. (I’m avoiding too many spoilers here, even though shots from this sequence are in the trailer. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.)
However, Lumet doesn’t avoid all the traps. About halfway through the film, we see Kym in her rehab group, and we get to know in detail the family tragedy that haunts Kym, as well as her part in it. But it doesn’t quite ring true. For one thing, Kym’s issues are a significant factor in this tragedy, but are not caused by it even though it has clearly made them worse. And the placing of this scene is a little too neat. It immediately precedes the film’s most comic sequence, an (apparently autobiographically inspired) scene of competitive dishwasher loading between father and son-in-law, and is just so placed so that the scene can have a suitably poignant sting in the tale.
Another issue is that Demme succumbs to self-indulgence. Including cameos from friends and colleagues like Roger Corman at the wedding ceremony is one thing, but including musical performances from Robyn Hitchcock (a former Demme documentary subject) and Sister Carol East (who had memorably performed a reggae version of “Wild Thing” in Something Wild, take us out of the film for about ten minutes. You wonder how many other musicians this family knows.
That said, there’s a lot to recommend in Rachel Getting Married. Anne Hathaway, in recent years reinventing herself from the child star of The Princess Diaries, gives an impressive performance, and is backed up by fine work from Rosemarie DeWitt and the rest of the cast. In a nice touch, much of the music heard in the film was played on location by rehearsing musicians, and was recorded live alongside the actors’ dialogue.
Rachel Getting Married is released by Sony in the UK as a single dual-layered disc encoded for Regions 2 and 5. There is also a Blu-ray edition.
The DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. Its origins in hand-held HD are obvious: a brownish tone to many shots, but strong depth of field in dark scenes. Overall, the image seems a little less substantial than a 35mm original would do, though I certainly understand the reasons for using HD. As the images were captured at 1080p, I'd imagine this would look just right on Blu-ray, though it's the SD edition that's being reviewed here.
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1. Being a dialogue-driven movie, it doesn't have the most adventurous sound mix, but there's still a good few examples of directional effects in left or right or one of the surrounds. The subwoofer doesn't have a lot of work to do apart from supporting the bass in the music performances. There are dubbed tracks in Italian, Spanish and Catalan and an English audio-descriptive track, the first two in 5.1 and the latter two 2.0 Surround.
Subtitles are available for the feature in a variety of languages (see sidebar). The commentaries have subtitles available in English, Italian, Spanish and Dutch, while the other extras are subtitled in those four languages and Portuguese.
There are two audio commentaries. The first features producer Neda Armian, Jenny Lumet and editor Tim Squyres and is a good-natured chat that does give us some useful background material. The second track features Rosemarie DeWitt solo. She leaves long gaps and doesn't have a lot to say. It would have been better to include her with the other three in a single commentary, or if schedules didn't permit edit her comments into it. It's a pity that Demme and Hathaway didn't contribute, though they do appear in the other extras.
The Special Features menu has two sub-menus, Featurettes and Deleted Scenes. There are three of the former. In “The Wedding Band” (7:48), Demme – who throughout his career has shown a strong sensitivity to music – talks about his approach to the music in this film, including having people play their instruments while the actors were delivering their lines. “A Look Behind the Scenes of Rachel Getting Married” (15:49) is a standard making-of, with on-set footage mixed with interviews with key cast and crew. The final featurette is a cast and crew Q & A (47:20) shot after a screening at the Jacob Burns Centre, Pleasantville NY. This is dominated by Demme and members of his crew, the only actors present being Bill Irwin and Mather Zickel.
There are nine deleted scenes, with a Play All option. They are “1st 12-Step Meeting” (4:17), “2nd 12-Step Meeting” (1:55), “Kym and Keiran at Scotty's Restaurant” (2:13), “Wedding Receiving Line” (2:17), “Kym and Keiran Talk in Basement” (2:09), “Kym and Rachel Driving to the Hair Salon” (1:34), “While Kym is Away” (1:43), “Roger Corman at Backyard Reception” (1:05) and “More Dinner Rehearsal Speeches” (2:36). It's noticeable that these are presented as “raw” HD footage, which blurs considerably on motion and clearly hasn't been colour-graded. They are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic.
The extras are completed by the theatrical trailer (2:20), which tries to sell the film as a broader comedy than it actually is.