A lot of movies feature big weddings. It was not until I saw Rachel Getting Married that I realized how much they all look alike. Rachel gets married in the film, but that’s only the first layer description. This is a movie about a gallery of interesting people gathered together for a happy occasion. The wedding here is different form the norm because it is Indian themed despite the fact that neither of the participants are Indian. Rachel is white American and the groom Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) is African. The family and friends on both sides are a mixture of cultures.
There are a lot of characters in this movie and many fit together in unexpected ways. Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) is not your standard neurotic bride but is relaxed and happy to have all of her loved ones together. Something else that I noticed that is different from the standard wedding movie is how the bride and groom interact. Most grooms in the movies are good-natured doormats whose function is to perform a snazzy proposal and move out of the bride’s way only to show up later at the wedding. Here, the groom is named Sidney, a gentle fellow who expresses his vows at the alter by singing a tender a capella rendition of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend.” Everyone involved seems to be having a great time except, sadly, for Rachel’s younger sister Kym (Anne Hathaway), whose story holds the film’s dramatic center. Kym has been in and out of rehab for 10 years and is making good strides to get clean. She has arrived at her sister’s wedding on a day pass from the clinic. What becomes clear right away is that while Kym can claim to have been clean and sober for 10 months, she hasn’t swept her emotional closet free of all of her demons. She is self-centered, a wet blanket, a drama queen who wants to be the center of attention, as in a moment when she turns a simple toast into a confessional, lined with rehab humor – few of the wedding guests laugh.
All through the preparations for the wedding, Kym continues to be out of place and always seems to be at odds with Rachel. Coming between the girls is their genial father Paul (Bill Irwin) who is so low-key that he seems unable to raise his voice. Paul is divorced from the girls’ estranged mother Abby (Debra Winger) who is overbearing, especially when it comes to Kym’s recovery. Much of Kym’s demons, we discover, fall back on an incident from long ago that the family doesn’t discuss. Years ago, Kym was left with her baby brother Ethan at the park. She was high on pills and later drove her car into the lake where her brother Ethan drown. That memory comes to light during a happy moment when Paul and Sidney are having a competition to see who can properly load the dishwasher in record time and one of the dishes that falls into Paul’s hands was Ethan’s and it stops the moment cold.
What is fascinating about Rachel Getting Married is that while the movie has a dramatic center, it never feels manufactured. We feel that the family’s problems with Kym have been ongoing and nothing ever comes up that we sense hasn’t been festering for years. Most of the best moments in the film happen because of Hathaway’s performance. She’s one of the best actresses of her generation, making her mark mostly in comedy but here finding a character who is fully realized. Kym is a mess, she is an enabler, she feels sorry for herself and she makes everyone around her miserable. I give credit to Hathaway for playing a character this unlikable. She isn’t afraid to look like a jerk.
Ironically, just three weeks before Rachel Getting Married was released came another wedding-themed movie, named Bride Wars, about a hateful spite war that kicks off between best friends over the venue at which they both want to have their wedding on the same day. It also starred Anne Hathaway but that film had nothing to offer but silly sitcom nonsense. It was hateful and cruel and mean-spiritied, the kind of film that is cobbled together out of spare parts from bad comedies. This film is much brighter, much fuller and with well-rounded characters. Everyone here is memorable even if we don’t get to know them. Rachel’s wedding is one that we remember because of the people involved.