Monday, January 31, 2011

Anne Hathaway Is One Of The Few Bright Lights In Rachel Getting Married.

The Good: Anne Hathaway's performance, Generally the acting.
The Bad: Pacing, Camera movements, Unlikable characters, DVD subtitle issues.
The Basics: Slow, belabored and obvious, Rachel Getting Married is a rare failure featuring Anne Hathaway; indeed, it is only the acting that even marginally saves this.

To understand just how disappointed I was with Rachel Getting Married, one needs to understand just how much I was looking forward to seeing the film. Last year, I saw a lot of movies and Rachel Getting Married was one I did not get to see in the theaters. In fact, the one time I was in a place to see it, the person I wanted to see it with told me she was going with someone else later in the week. Thus deprived, I had to wait until it arrived on DVD. So, I was pleasantly surprised last night to see that my library had managed to get the film in. So, despite having just watched Crash (reviewed here!) as part of the Best Picture program I was hosting at the library, I took Rachel Getting Married out and rushed home to watch it.

Perhaps it is sitting and watching two depressing movies in a night or perhaps it was the early camera stylings in Rachel Getting Married that made me think that the cameraman from NYPD Blue filmed this while falling down the stairs, but Rachel Getting Married might well be the biggest disappointment of 2008. Other movies were worse, to be sure, but there was none from last year that I went into expecting greatness and I ended up wondering how the film had managed to get such good press. To wit, at one point in the movie, I checked to see how much time was left and I was supremely disappointed to discover that only an hour had elapsed and I still had fifty minutes left to endure.

Rachel Getting Married is not actually about Rachel, it is about her sister, Kym, who is checked out of rehab for the weekend in order to attend Rachel's rehearsal dinner and wedding. The first major problem is that where the film sets up all the necessary elements in the first few minutes with implications any adult audience will pick up, the film later makes entirely explicit, beating into the viewer's heads all of the addiction/recovery issues in a way that is not informative and nowhere near entertaining.

Kym is signed out of her in-patient rehabilitation facility by her father, Paul, and stepmother, Carol. Almost immediately, she begins chain-smoking to cope with the sheer number of people staying at her father's Connecticut house. Overwhelmed by the people and the situation, Kym embraces the court-mandated support group meetings, which - because of the nature of her addiction and the crime associated with it - she is forced to cycle to. After the meeting, she discovers that the Best Man in the wedding, Kieran, was one of the people who spoke at the meeting and she finds a kindred spirit in him.

Through Kieran, Kym discovers she is not the Maid Of Honor for her sister that she thought she was and she begins to press the issue with Rachel. As the usual wedding issues come up, Kym's addiction issues complicate things to force the family members into familiar roles which they adapt or break as the film goes on.

Rachel Getting Married, like 28 Days (reviewed here!) is essentially a glorified after-school special with a more impressive cast than its television counterparts. Indeed, if I were still in a middle school health class, I could no doubt name the roles each member of the family is playing, though I know Paul is most often the enabler here. The purpose of my comment here is quite simple; it does not take long before the film becomes less about characters interacting in real ways than it is about character types from the archetypal addict/recovery story. Mixing the addiction and wedding issues - weddings often known to not bring out the best in the people involved! - could be intriguing, but everything in this film falls entirely along predicted lines.

As a result, in the first moments of the movie, there is Unspecified Prior Event which is alluded to, which upsets Kym, even before she is picked up. Then, at the rehearsal dinner, someone refers to a Missing Character, and Kym and virtually everyone else looks upset. Is it a surprise, then, when Kym has Obvious Breakdown/Revelation at her group therapy session? No, not really. And while this could be played out in an interesting or wonderful way, instead, it makes it into the film in the most droll and perfectly-timed execution possible. Rachel Getting Married is so by-the-book, in fact, that one suspects director Jonathan Demme had to shake the camera just to get the film made under the guise of "Yes, I can make this old story seem new." Unfortunately, the camera movements, which are intended to portray how unsettled Kym is returning home are so chaotic as to be nauseating and distracting, in addition to being an Obvious Artistic Technique.

Here's the thing, I love art house films, but what I most frequently appreciate about them is how they get performances or concepts across that mainstream movies do not usually do. Demme gets Hathaway to take her shirt off. Big whoop. Where is the substance? Where is something - anything - audacious? Alas, it is not in Rachel Getting Married. Instead, this movie, which will probably be a favorite for high school Health teachers henceforth for its formulaic portrayal of a dysfunctional family wrestling with addiction issues, is boring.

Rachel is appropriately self-centered given that it is her wedding and the circumstances are complicated by Rachel having to deal with Kym, a mother, stepmother and in-laws. But while some of her issues are understandable, supporting characters act too frequently in monolithic ways that could only serve this specific story. So, while realism is a great aspect of the performances in much of the film, it is not present in all of the characters. To wit, late in the film an artifact from the Missing Character is uncovered, which unsettles Paul in an overlong dishwasher loading sequence. It is at this moment that Paul, distraught, abandons Kym. The thing is, when Paul leaves the room, all of the characters - few who are anywhere near as emotionally invested in the object or its appearance - walk out as well. It feels like Art House Chic and more stylistic than substantial. For a film trying to be gritty and real, this is a fatal flaw.

That said, what is not overrated about Rachel Getting Married is the acting. The acting is all that sucks this out of the most dismal layers of ratings. Anne Hathaway is wonderful as Kym because from the first moment she appears on screen puffing heavily on a cigarette, the viewer is set up to not like her. As a fan of Hathaway's, getting me to not like her character is a challenge, but here she makes it seem effortless. Hathaway slouches through much of the film without her trademark (certainly off-camera) dignity and in the film's quiet moments, she is soulful and vulnerable in a way that makes viewers believe she deserved every award nomination she received for her performance. She is truly exceptional as Kym.

Despite the character predictabilities, Bill Irwin is wonderful as Paul, playing the character with a realism and genuine sense of conflict as he wrestles with protecting and aiding his daughters. Irwin has a likable affect to him and he plays the character almost constantly as a man wearing a mask and he sells us on Paul's fragile attempts at appearing invulnerable. Similarly, Mather Zickel is decent as Kieran, playing him with both the sense that he could have been an addict and that he is in a very different place than Kym.

On DVD, Rachel Getting Married comes with minimal extras, which include several trailers for other movies. There is a commentary track and I was distressed to discover that the two subtitle options were garbled as a result. Activating the subtitles split the subtitles between lines from the commentary track and the actual film. Neither subtitle option was "pure," both had fragments of either of the audio tracks, so those who need to engage the subtitles are likely to have problems with the film. That said, the commentary track lays out all of the symbols in the usual self-congratulatory way independent film do on DVD.

I spent months excited about Rachel Getting Married and Anne Hathaway, great as she is, cannot cover for a script that is predictable and obvious. But it is the look of the film, washed out yellow and characterized by spinning camera movements that add up to nothing that ultimately plunge this average film below the bar.

For works featuring Anne Hathaway, please check out my reviews of:
Love And Other Drugs
Family Guy Presents: It's A Trap!
Alice In Wonderland
Valentine's Day
The Princess Diaries


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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