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An Invitation to An Unforgettable Wedding in Rachel Getting Married

Weddings in South Korea are pretty much the same in terms of routine and procedure, and I must confess that my mind is mostly occupied with how much money I have to give as a gift and what I can eat at a buffet room. Unless the bride or the groom is someone considerably close to me, I just watch a few minutes of the wedding ceremony after giving the money as required, and I simply go straight to the buffet room for evaluation. 

That is why I still remember the wedding ceremony shown in Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married,” which is much more vivid and interesting compared to the many plain wedding ceremonies I have mindlessly attended before. Constantly brimming with life, spirit, and personality, this wedding ceremony is surely one of the most entertaining in film history. We observe several poignant, intimate moments generated between its main characters, who come to put aside their personal issues to be happy and joyous together for a while.

The movie revolves around Kym Buchman (Anne Hathaway), a young woman who has been in a rehabilitation center for several months due to her addiction problem. She is glad to be allowed to visit her family house for the upcoming wedding of her older sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), but, like many newly recovering addicts, she cannot help but feel edgy and nervous, and her anxiety is not quelled at all even after her father Paul (Bill Irwin) arrives and then takes her to their home.

When Kym arrives at her family house, everyone is busy with preparing for her sister’s wedding, and we soon come to sense the tension between Kym and her family members. Her father genuinely cares about her recovery process, but Kym gets annoyed with her father’s constant attention toward her, and Rachel is not so pleased about Kym frequently drawing attention from her father and others. While she generously allows her younger sister to be the Maid of Honor instead of her best friend, she understandably becomes quite displeased when Kym attempts to congratulate Rachel at first, but then makes a rambling speech on her recovery process during the rehearsal dinner.

Meanwhile, we gradually get to know an emotional wound which still hurts Kym and the family. Around the time when Kym was at the bottom of her addiction, a devastating incident happened. It is evident from a few brief personal moments that she has been struggling a lot with her guilt over the irreversible consequence of her reckless action, which probably led to her father’s divorce with his first wife Abby (Debra Winger). When her father happens to come across a certain item from the past at one point, his casually cheerful attitude is suddenly switched off, and we can clearly feel his heart broken again over what was lost forever. 

This is surely a familiar setup for family melodrama, but Jenny Lumet’s screenplay freely sways along with its main characters as they go through ups and downs before the wedding ceremony. During the scene which is actually based on an episode between Lumet’s legendary father Sidney Lumet and Bob Fosse, the mood is vivacious as everyone cheers for an impromptu competition between two main characters, and you may find yourself cheering along with them.

Demme and his cinematographer Declan Quinn took an effective visual approach fitting well to the free-flowing storytelling of Lumet’s screenplay. Because the movie was mainly shot via handheld cameras, its first 20 minutes may be a little too dizzy and rough at first, but, thanks to the raw verisimilitude generated from the spontaneous camera movements on the set, we often feel like we are there. The overall result indeed looks like your average wedding video at times, but it is skillfully presented with several intense emotional scenes including the one where Kym and her mother come to confront the old pain and resentment still churning between them. 

In addition, Demme made an interesting choice with the film's music, bringing more realism onto the screen. During the shoot, he had a bunch of musicians including Donald Harrison Jr. and Zafer Tawil play music in the background frequently, and everything we hear from the soundtrack is really what was recorded right on the set. When he shot one crucial scene, Demme let one of his main cast members ask the musicians to stop playing music outside, and this small moment of improvisation brings extra spontaneity to this important scene.

Like Robert Altman’s “A Wedding” (1978), which can be regarded as its senior, the movie observes its numerous characters with equal care and attention, and the best example is shown from Kym and Rachel’s stepmother Carol (Anna Deavere Smith). Although she seldom speaks throughout the film, we are always aware of her presence, and she comes to us as another small but substantial part of the story, just like Rachel’s soon-to-be husband Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), who exudes warm, gentle decency in his amiable appearance even when he does not say anything.

It is evident that Demme had a pretty good time with his performers. In fact, his close friends and colleagues played some of minor characters in the film, and they and other performers effortlessly mingle together during the wedding ceremony sequence. Spiced with colorful multicultural elements, the wedding ceremony sequence pulsates with genuine joy and exhilaration. After so much fun and excitement, there comes a precious moment of comfort and acceptance for Kym and a few others around her, and everything feels fine and perfect for them, though there are still some issues remaining unresolved for Kym and her family.

For Anne Hathaway, the movie was a major turning point in her career. After demonstrating the serious side of her talent via a supporting role in “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), she was ready for more challenging roles, and the movie certainly provided that. Never making any excuses for a character who is often very unlikable, she ably presents Kym as a complex human figure deserving empathy. You will probably come to wish Kym all the best in the end, even if you still do not want to be around her at any chance.

While holding the center as required, Hathaway does not overshadow several other main cast members at all. As the main counterpoint to Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt deftly conveys to us her character’s conflicting feelings toward Kym. Holding each own small spot well around Hathaway and DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith, Mather Zickel, Tunde Adebimpe, and Debra Winger are also convincing in their unadorned natural acting, and you may be amused by the brief appearance of Sebastian Stan at the beginning of the film.       

Although he has been mainly known for “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), Demme made a series of small but colorful character drama and comedy films such as “Melvin and Howard” (1980) and “Something Wild” (1986) before that. Sadly, “Rachel Getting Married” turned out to be his penultimate feature film due to his death in 2017. It deserves to be mentioned along with those aforementioned works of his. It's one hell of a wedding. 

Seongyong Cho

Seongyong Cho writes extensively about film on his site, Seongyong's Private Place.

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