Rachel Getting Married
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Length: 113 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 1080p
Languages: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
Every so often a film comes along which does a superb job of realistically depicting complex family dynamics. Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married is one of those films. It is an incisive look at a family’s personal demons, a movie which never lapses into cliché or false sentiment.
Kym Buchman (Anne Hathaway) has completed a nine-month stint in rehab at a facility in New York City and is being released just days before the wedding of her sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). The elaborate nuptials are to be held at the Buchman family home in suburban Connecticut. Kym is uncomfortable returning to the family home, particularly under these circumstances. She would prefer to have some privacy and quiet time, but when she arrives the place is abuzz with preparations for the wedding. Last-minute logistical decisions have to be made, musicians are rehearsing, there are gown fittings to be completed, and the house is seemingly overrun with people who are total strangers to Kym. Amidst all of this activity, Kym has to immediately rush off to attend a 12-step meeting.
Kym’s parents are divorced. Her father, Paul (Bill Irwin), is a decent and loving man, but he does not fully comprehend why Kym has been such a problem. He understandably distrusts her and wants to keep an eye on her at all times. Kym's mother, Abby (Debra Winger), seemingly is supportive of her daughters, but it becomes evident that she has a problem with selfishness. The wedding is supposed to be Rachel’s time in the sun, but Kym’s return has added a considerable dose of unwelcome drama to Rachel’s life. Kym is offended when she discovers that Rachel has asked a close friend, Emma (Anisa George) to be the maid of honor. At the wedding rehearsal dinner, Kym gets up and gives a long, rambling, embarrassing monologue which is intended to make amends to Rachel for unspecified offenses which Kym has committed. However, at her next 12-step meeting, Kym acknowledges that years earlier, while high on Percodan, she did something horrific which tragically affected every member of her family. She has been forgiven by her family – superficially, at least – but she has been unable to forgive herself.
The film’s dramatic high point is reached the evening before the wedding. Following an argument with Rachel, Kym goes to see their mother. A meeting which begins on a calm note quickly degenerates into ugly recriminations and violence.
The wedding itself is a fascinating experience, filmed with such immediacy and realism that the viewer almost feels like one of the guests. Of course, not everyone can have musicians such as Robyn Hitchcock and “Sister” Carol East sing at your wedding, but if you could I am certain that it would be a lot like Rachel’s wedding.
Anne Hathaway’s Academy Award-nominated performance is certainly worthy of the accolades which it received. She is ably supported by the rest of the cast, including wonderfully understated acting by Debra Winger as the emotionally distant and somewhat self-centered mother. Sharp-eyed viewers may spot Roger Corman (once Jonathan Demme's mentor) appearing as one of the wedding guests. If there is a caveat here, it is Demme’s decision to make extensive use of hand-held cameras. Viewers who are susceptible to motion sickness might want to keep some Dramamine nearby.
Overall, this is a disturbing, insightful examination of how even a generally loving family can struggle to overcome a personal tragedy and try to figure out how deal with a child or sibling who has a problem with substance abuse. Some may be dissatisfied with the ambiguous ending of Rachel Getting Married, but upon reflection I believe that Demme gets it just right. If the ending is not exactly happy, it is at least hopeful.
Rachel Getting Married was filmed on high-definition video cameras, and the 1.85:1 1080p transfer is very sharp and pleasing. The film was shot on location in Connecticut in early autumn, and the colors are reproduced with exceptional clarity and accuracy. Most of the scenes take place indoors, so the excellent shadow detail is a major plus. The hand-held camerawork introduces a certain level of jitteriness which some viewers may find distracting, but this clearly is a function of the original elements rather than any flaw in the transfer.
The audio on Rachel Getting Married is interesting because the musical sequences (of which there are many) were recorded live, with little or no enhancement done during post-production. The one drawback to this is that the music sometimes makes snippets of dialogue difficult to make out, which occasionally gives the film an Altman-esque quality (Robert Altman, incidentally, is recognized in the closing credits). Generally, however, the dialogue comes through clearly. The surround channels do come alive when the music is playing, especially during the very entertaining and energetic wedding reception. The audio occasionally provides some real punch, most noticeably in a scene involving an auto accident.
The Blu-ray disc includes two commentaries. One commentary features producer Neda Armian, screenwriter Jenny Lumet (the daughter of Sidney Lumet) and film editor Tim Squyres. They provide some interesting insight into the production and helpfully identify many of the people who portray the guests at the wedding, most of whom are friends and relatives of the cast and crew rather than regular movie extras. The other commentary is by co-star Rosemarie DeWitt.
Also included is a featurette about the wedding band, a “behind the scenes” featurette, and a cast and crew Q&A which was held after a showing of the film at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York. There are no fewer than nine deleted scenes, all of which are individually interesting but were necessarily cut to keep the length of the movie manageable.
Sony has been good enough to include the film’s theatrical trailer, as well as trailers for Waltz With Bashir; I’ve Loved You So Long; Synedoche, New York; Passengers; The Class; The Wackness; Capote; Rent: Filmed Live On Broadway; Damages: Season One and The DaVinci Code.
The single disc is secured in a standard Blu-ray keepcase.
The Final Analysis
Rachel Getting Married is an intense family drama which features one of the best lead acting performances of 2008 and a strong ensemble case. The Blu-ray release is a first-class effort by Sony, including a number of worthwhile extras.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: March 10, 2009