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.
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).
Official Rachel Getting Married Website
- RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
Sony Pictures Classics present RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. A Jonathan Demme Picture. Opens in New York and Los Angeles October 3rd, 2008. Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You.