Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married

Addiction is a family disease. It affects not only the addicted person, but every member of his/her family. In "Rachel Getting Married" the heroine's addiction is clearly central to the family's dysfunction, but there are other issues going ont, too. Underneath an exuberantly loving, musically creative and ethnically tolerant exterior, everyone's sick -- not just the main character, who, by the way, is NOT Rachel, but her sister Kym.

A girlfriend kidnapped me last night to go see this latest Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries", "The Devil Wears Prada", "Get Smart") movie. I'd heard an interview with the writer, Jenny Lumet (director Sydney Lumet's daughter) on NPR, so had an idea where her script was coming from. It's also directed by Jonathan Demme, one of my faves. Plus, I'm naturally drawn to the subject of rehab and recovery -- always interested to see it handled for public consumption.

Movie Trailer

Themes -- Addictive and Otherwise

The basic plot of the movie is that a young 20-something drug addict (played by Hathaway) gets a weekend pass out of rehab (she's got 9 months clean) to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. I went in intent on keeping an open mind about the main character, Kym Buchman, as well as her family's response to her. I admit I was very curious to see whether she would be viewed sympathetically or suspiciously by her family. Would they embrace the changed Kym or shun her as the old, drama queen Kym ? Would she be like the a-holes on Celebrity Rehab who give both rehab and addicts (IMO) a bad name?  I cringed every time she opened her mouth, afraid she'd say something inappropriate, caustic or unfeelingly self-centered. And yes, she did. But to her credit, she didn't relapse!!!

A central theme of Rachel Getting Married is the interplay between the family members.

Fathers and Daughters and Sisters, Oh My! Kym and Rachel's dad is a very affable guy. Ok, so he's forever foisting food upon his daughters (one of whom (Rachel) may or may not have bulemia issues). But hey, some people legitimately express love that way! He does love Kym unconditionally, although he tends to treat her with kit gloves. To his credit, he defends her when an obviously jealous Rachel whines in Jan Brady fashion, "What about me? Can't I have even one day?" This tells us a lot about Rachel's insecurities as the non-using, middle child in the Buchman family.

Well duh, Rachel. You've lived with your sister the drug addict for 10 years. Surely you weren't naïve enough to expect her to breeze in from rehab for one weekend all well and wonderful, just for your wedding? It doesn't work that way, sorry. It doesn't mean she doesn't love you.

Mothers Be Good to Your Daughters -- The wedding takes place in the Buchman family home, which is inhabited by Mr. Buchman and his second wife, Carol. She appears to be a warm, affectionate and wise woman who loves Rachel and Kym. Then there's their biological mother played by Debra Winger. She seems to be totally cool with the whole scene (Dad's remarriage, her own remarriage, Rachel's marriage, even Kym's return). That is, until Kym rocks her denial-buoyed boat by probing her on the tragedy that sent Kym, and the rest of the family, into a tailspin 10 years earlier.

The Buchman family resides in Stamford, Connecticut. They have money. They have breeding and education. On the surface they're functional, but they live with the spectre of a son's death and a daughter's drug addiction that combined caused the demise of the parents' marriage. That's a lot of flammability to carry around. In the face of wedding tensions, it's downright combustible.

Hope and Love Spring Eternal

Juxtaposed with the Buchman family's troubled past is the family's optimistic future. Specifically, Rachel's impending marriage to Sydney and the revelation that they are expecting a baby. Extended family on both sides, along with a colorful cadre of friends have gathered at the Buchman home to prepare for the wedding extravaganza. And everyone seems genuinely happy and joyous about the union of the two families.

So, too, has Kym come home with 9 months of sobriety (not sure if that's a deliberate parallel with Rachel's pregancy or not). Although her public amends at the rehearsal dinner are painful and ill-timed, at least she's trying. And when she's able to share at her Narcotics Anonymous meeting about her little brother Ethan's death, we get the sense that this is a huge breakthrough for her.

There's also her connection with the best man, who just happens to be a recovering addict. She first meets him at the NA meeting then discovers he's in the wedding party. This does not seem at all contrived, just serendipitous for Kym and her recovery. At the end of the film we get the impression Kym might just take him up on his offer to come visit him in Hawaii (where Rachel and Sydney also will be).

Addicts struggle with their demons long after they stop putting drugs into their bodies. There's the past to reconcile and the present to negotiate. It's a challenge. But the longer you do it, the easier it gets.

We're given to understand that Kym has been in and out of rehab for 10 years. She's pretty matter-of-fact about her relapses. We also hear from others that she's brave indeed to put herself into such an intense family situation with "only" 9 months under her belt. Let's face it, weddings are stressful and don't always bring out the best in (most notably) the bride, but also the bride's family. To her credit, Rachel, after some initial petulance, gets off her pity pot and does the right thing by her sister. She shows that blood is thicker than seltzer (Kym's designated drink) and allows her to be the maid of honor.

On the Outside Looking In

The most powerful scenes for me were the actual wedding. It was "unusual." Now I get that the groom and his friends are all musicians. I get that as such they are ecclectic and exotic. I just don't get the Indian-themed wedding between a white bride and an African American groom. I guess the bride and bridesmaids wearing saris is just another way to emphasize how worldbeat and accepting Rachel and her family and friends are. Whatever.

There's no indication that the Buckman family itself is musical, or that Kym and Rachel grew up with bands of musicians hanging around the house. But they sure play a big role in the wedding weekend festivities. Seems like every time you turn around (or finish a meal, snack or sandwich) someone's breaking into song.

This is nowhere more evident than at the wedding feast. In fact, the emphasis is almost entirely on singing and dancing and melding of musical genres and internationally hued w guests into one happy, surreal blur. The music is joyous. The guests are giddy with the moment. And yet we watch Kym struggling to find her groove. She tries, she really does. But she's just somehow out of synch with the guests who've been guzzling red wine all evening. If you've ever been in that situation where everyone else is on the same wavelength and you're just not -- then you understand how disconnected she feels. Lumet and Demme have captured perfectly that "stranger in a strange land" feeling of participating in a familiar activity without your usual mind-altering crutch.

Finally Kym gives up and leaves the tent and goes to find her sister and Sydney. I won't give away the poignant ending. But will say this: "Rachel Getting Married" is a quiet little film that seeps in and settles in your brain. It's not rah rah 12 Steps. It's not rah rah rehab programs. It's an honest, unsentimental look at the aftermath of one girl's horrible mistake as a result of using -- and her efforts to come to grips with it, forgive herself, and reestablish herself in her family. Oh yes, and to survive a wedding that feels like an LSD flashback (but a good trip, not a bad trip).

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Comments 11 comments

NYLady profile image

NYLady 7 years ago from White Plains, NY

Hey there, MM! Great film review. I'm tempted to see this movie. Sounds like some of the same themes as "In Her Shoes" -- not the addiction them, but the sisters theme. Sounds like a film for me. Thanks for the preview.


pgrundy 7 years ago

Great review MM! I heard about this film and wanted to go see it when it first came out, but I never made it somehow. I'll be sure and check it out now.

I like your new avatar but I do miss the lady in the red dress. Was she you or did she just express something about you? I like it when people put up their real photos, but I know that can be problematic and uncomfortable sometimes. For instance, I think some guy called me ugly in a forum yesterday and then accused my photo of being fake. That was fun! (Cackles and signs off...LOL!)


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Hey Mighty, I read every word and confirmed what I already knew- I want to see this movie! I was afraid you would pop that bubble. I was hoping it would be just as you described it and held my breath each time you said things like... "I went in intent on keeping an open mind about the main character." I didn't want you to follow up with that horrific word BUT- and you didn't! Yay.

As far as your new avatar, I was thinking it was really refreshing. It made me very curious about you and where you live and it also made me relate to what I am seeing this very minute outside my window- bright snow and dark patches of life against a stratus clouded blue, blue sky.


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Hi NYLady, Pam and Storytellersrus, I hope you will all see this movie and let me know your thoughts. I want to see it again when it comes out on DVD. I never did see "In Her Shoes" but have heard of it and will check it out. The sisters relationship is really quite beautiful. I'm most interested in seeing if others view the wedding as total sensory overload (as I did). Fair warning -- the filming technique features a lot of hand held. My companion had to leave the theatre because it was making her feel motion sick (like the Blair Witch Project). Didn't bother me, however.

As to my avatar -- I will put the old one back up after the holidays. Yes, that's me mugging for my husband on a trip up to Mt. Lassen. This pic of Utah and buffalo in the snow is the closest I had available for a Christimas pic. Storytellersrus, I am jealous that you are seeing bright snow and dark patches against a stratus clouded blue, blue sky. Although I shouldn't complain. At least we got the temp here in relentlessly sunny Sacramento down into the 40s tonight.

I have yet to figure out how to manipulate photos. One capsule challenge at a time for this old dog. Pam -- so sorry you got insulted. How RUDE! Maybe you should put back up that adorable pic of you as a wee lass. I loved that!


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Lovely Hub MM, I shall look out for the film when they finally show it in the UK. :)


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Thanks, Misty. On a certain level, this movie could be about any two sisters. The fact that Kym's in rehab just provides a vehicle for extra drama (thus making it appropriate for a movie:-). But the bittersweet love/affection/rivalry between Kym and Rachel exists in families everywhere.


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

So true, I know what my Sister and I are like :)


Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Love your review, so detailed and full of personal insights. Haven't seen the film but it seems it is in the same vein as Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh's Margot at the Wedding. Thanks :D


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Why thank you, Cris A. I have not seen Margot at the Wedding, but if it has JJL it has got to be a little offbeat and funky and cool. I just love her acting. Nic's great too. Very versatile actor. Thanks for commenting. If you see the movie, I hope it is remotely close to how I've portrayed it:-). MM


fierycj profile image

fierycj 7 years ago from The Fiery Heart of Africa

This movie is so out of my genre, but someone very dear made me watch this movie, and surprisingly I enjoyed it. Its unique, and the acting and dialogues are very original. Good hub.


letstalkabouteduc profile image

letstalkabouteduc 15 months ago from Bend, OR

I've always wanted to see this movie, and your review will finally get me to do it. I love movies about weddings because, as you say, they create a lot of drama -- both good and bad. I can't wait to see Debra Winger as the mother. I haven't seen her in a movie for decades, but she was once a favorite.

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