Before I launch into this review, did anyone else find it more than a little odd that noted thespian Katie Holmes was chosen to give out the best actor in a motion picture award at last night's Screen Actor's Guild Awards? Just a random thought ...
I have to say Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" might just be the most unpleasant movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. And I can tell you, if you think you've seen every possible kind of movie wedding, think again.
What Demme has accomplished here, with a big assist from screen writer Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney), is something as overall as creepy as any horror movie, but instead of the usual gore the horrors here are all emotional and all too real. You never get the sense that you're really supposed to be there, and watching these extremely personal events unfold at a natural pace as an uninvited guest is a singular movie-viewing experience.
But I guess a word or two about the plot is in order, since the fairly straightforward title only gets things started. As the titular Rachel (RoseMarie DeWitt, a k a Don Draper's hippie mistress Midge on the first season of "Mad Men") is indeed getting married, her sister Kim (Anne Hathaway, as you probably know) is returning from nine months of drug rehab to steal some of the spotlight.
The movie is at its best when the two of them come together, and each sister would be a fairly trite cliche (the family success and the black sheep) if the parts weren't so well written and performed. Hathaway's rehearsal dinner toast, after begging her way at the last minute into the role of maid of honor, has gotten the most attention, and it is indeed a simmering pot of desperate neediness. But the reason it works so well is that it comes at the end of a series of wedding tributes full of the usual love and awkward moments, making it all the more jarring when Hathaway's Kim turns the spotlight on herself instead of the happy couple.
Hathaway is indeed exceptional here, but it's when we find out that there's a real tragedy buried among her many secrets and lies (which you won't hear about from me) that the actors around her get to excel. Bill Irwin as the father of the bride is hard to watch as he struggles to keep his face in a perma-grin as the big weekend starts to unravel. DeWitt's Rachel lets her resentment at this last-minute wedding intrusion simmer until it boils over, and at that point every word becomes a sharp dagger. One scene that perfectly captures the mix of bonhomie and real pain comes when Irwin and Rachel's husband-to-be Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe, who just happens to be black, a fact that creates refreshingly little to no drama) try to turn the tedious task of loading the dishwasher into a competitive sport to ease the tension.
I don't want to reveal too much more, but there is indeed eventually a wedding, and the joy it brings is just as real as the trauma, and a desperately needed respite. My only real beef with Demme's film is that he felt the need to lard up the reception a bit with more than a few of his music industry friends, but even here it was really nice to see Sister Carol East of "Something Wild" fame again.
In the end, if you can handle a brutal emotional battlefield, I can highly and almost unconditionally recommend "Rachel Getting Married." In closing, here's a flashback that just made me smile, Sister Carol performing "Wild Thing" for the closing credits of "Something Wild," which should brighten up a bit even the dreariest of Mondays. Peace out.