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Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/10/2009

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/9/2009

"Character actors" are typically thought of as actors who aren't big stars and that have the ability to play many different kinds of characters in many different kinds of movies and TV shows. The irony here is that many character actors will be recognized or remembered for a specific role. Most anyone who has had a child in the past decade or so will have no doubt seen "Elmo's World" on Sesame Street. (Assuming that you have the where-withal to watch TV with your child and no what they are seeing.) A very important part of this show was when Elmo would visit Mr. Noodle's Brother, Mr. Noodle, played by the late Michael Jeter. Mr. Noodle was played by Bill Irwin, a man who has played many different roles. (Quick trivia: Miss Noodle was played by Kristin Chenoweth.) So, no matter what role he is playing, I always see Bill Irwin as Mr. Noodle. This happened even in the very serious Rachel Getting Married.

Rachel Getting Married introduces us to the Buckman family. Oldest daughter Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married (hence the title). Her younger sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway) has been released from rehab in order to attend the wedding. Paul Buckman (Bill Irwin) picks up Kym from the facility and brings her back to the family home in Connecticut. Kym has a history of substance abuse and erratic behavior. (It's implied that she was once a model.) While everyone is glad to see Kym home, they are concerned about her behavior. Kym seemingly attempts to be good, as she attends her Narcotics Anonymous meeting as ordered and offers to help Rachel. However, as the guests begin to arrive and attention is lavished on Rachel, Kym begins to display some attention-seeking behavior, such as demanding to be Maid of Honor. The arrival of Kym and Rachel's mother, Abby (Debra Winger), only makes the tension worse. While the many guests are enjoying the immaculate wedding, Rachel tries to keep it together.

Rachel Getting Married comes from Oscar-winning Director Jonathan Demme, and the movie is nothing more than an experimental film, and don't fool yourself into thinking that it's anything else. (On the DVD extras, Demme states that he wanted to make an "independent film" -- clearly forgetting that he started his career making low-budget movies for Roger Corman (who is in the film).) With this movie, Demme has melded a bare-bones narrative with cinema verite. The movie was shot on HD using a lot of hand-held camera to give us the "you are there" feeling. Much of the music in the film is actually taking place in the story, as the musicians are tuning up for the wedding. The first three acts resemble a standard narrative film as far as the structure is concerned, but the final act, when the wedding takes place, is shot in nearly real-time. At times, it feels as if we are intruders on the wedding.

As for the story, the plot is a mixture of subtlety and audacity. We get the sense early on that there is some sort of tragedy surrounding Kym's condition, and when it's revealed (I won't spoil it here), it's not necessarily shocking, but it's still very sad. It immediately becomes clear that Kym has deep-seeded issues and we get the sense that should could explode, or implode, at anytime. Due to the nature of the story, there really aren't twists and turns here, but there is a subtle sense of suspense, as we wonder what Kym will do next. The relationships are presented in a very natural and organic way, and the dialogue has a realistic ring to it. (And as someone who has worked with addicts, Kym's mannerisms are believable.)

Just as Rachel Getting Married mixes genres, the result is a mixed-bag as well. The acting is top-notch, with Rosemarie DeWitt and Anne Hathaway leading the pack. Hathaway (who received an Oscar nomination for the role) does a great job of playing the whirling dervish who is Kym. She clearly studied addicts and has the behavior down cold. DeWitt, in contrast, must react to all of this, and does a great job of winning our sympathy and not coming off as a spoiled child. However, the movie truly drags at time. In the film, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), works in music, and many musicians perform at the rehearsal and at the wedding. Demme has chosen to show much of this in its entirety, especially the reception which is like one long music montage, and the result feels like watching someone else's wedding video. The strong acting, and the immersion of the audience into the Buckman household can't overcome these excruciatingly boring parts.

Rachel Getting Married says I do on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Again, the movie was shot on HD, so the image is very sharp and clear, showing little grain and no defects from the source material. (There are shots shown from the POV of a small digital camera, and these show some grain.) The colors look fine, but the verite nature does render the image a bit dark at times. The picture has good depth and the detail level is nice. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The most notable thing about this track is that the music sounds very good and the music during the reception really shows off the stereo and surround effects of this track. Otherwise, we've get a very quiet, intimate movie, where sounds rarely leave the center channel.

The Rachel Getting Married DVD contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Producer Neda Armian, Screenwriter Jenny Lumet, and Editor Tim Squyres. This is a pretty-good commentary as the trio give us a good deal of information about the cast and the making of the film. They talk about where things were shot, and in many cases, how they were shot as real locations were used as opposed to sets. We get to hear who the non-actors are and how Demme recruited them for the film. We next have another COMMENTARY, this one with actress Rosemarie Dewitt. This is a less enjoyable track, as DeWitt has a somewhat dreamy voice, and it's easy to get lulled into not listening to what she is saying. She leaves many blank gaps as she describes her experiences on the film. Having her do this alone was an odd choice. "A Look Behind the Scenes of Rachel Getting Married" (16 minutes) contains relaxed and candid conversations with Demme, the cast and the other filmmakers. They discuss the characters and the story. Demme talks about his penchant for casting non-actors. There's also a talk of how the film was shot. "The Wedding Band" (8 minutes) looks at the fact there are so many musicians in the film, appearing as characters or simply as musicians. The piece explains how/why there are people in several scenes where the are people playing instruments in the background. There is also an overview of the famous music personalities in the movie. Demme, some of the actors, some crew members, and some of the musicians field questions from an audience in "Cast and Crew Q & A at Jacob Burns Center, Pleasantville New York" (49 minutes). (The emcee is difficult to understand at times.) The DVD contains 9 DELETED SCENES which run about 20 minutes. We get a few more scenes with Kim and Kieran here, several more wedding party scenes, and a nice, yet tense seen with Rachel and Kim. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long