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Top Movies of the Decade #3

3. Rachel Getting Married

It’s hard to talk about a film like “Rachel Getting Married” without playing armchair psychologist, and in this difficulty may lie the film’s greatest strength.   We see these people at their most broken and vulnerable; we seem them living out the moments that only ever get talked about in places like the confession booth or the therapist’s couch – defining moments, painful moments, moments where they stop playing roles and are utterly themselves, broken, bitter, joyous, loving, grieving.

“Rachel Getting Married” is a movie about a familiar topic in cinema – a dysfunctional family gathering around a big event, this one being the titular wedding.  But this movie has few peers.   Jonathan Demme really should have won an Oscar for his direction of this gem, capturing both the fine balance (or lack of it) between tender, emotional moments and the overwhelming logistical nightmare that makes up most modern weddings.

Here’s my original (oddly short) review:

Nothing like a wedding to bring out the dysfunction in a family.  Anne Hathaway gets out of rehab just in time to keep anything from running smoothly at her sister’s nuptial preparations.   A large, high-pressure family gathering is probably the last place one should go after a stint in a rehab facility, but I guess sometimes you don’t have much choice.   Every little thing somebody does sets someone else off, and Kym can’t seem to help but repeatedly draw the attention to herself – a cardinal sin at somebody else’s big celebration.   These characters are flawed and lovely, easy to relate to, and seem hellbent on destroying each other with their honest, earnest attempts to be a loving family.   The love is real.   So is the pain.

(And hey, look – Ms. Hathaway can act.   One wonders why she chooses not to the majority of the time.   She made two wedding movies in the last year – “Rachel Getting Married” and “Bride Wars.”   It’s hard to imagine two movies about the same basic thing being any more different.)

Jonathan Demme’s direction of “Rachel Getting Married” is very intimate, employing lots of steadycams and long pan shots.  Often it feels like you’re really at the wedding, annoyed by the string quartet that won’t stop rehearsing, trying not to step on the decorations strewn across the floor, wondering what in the fridge is safe to eat and what is being saved for the big day.

Last year’s “Margot at the Wedding” has basically the same plot – wedding plans drawing out family dysfunction – but was so much colder, crueller, and more sarcastic that watching it was like drinking vinegar.   Pain and dysfunction aren’t as easy to put on the screen as one might think — we still need to like and root for the characters, despite the horrible things they do and say to each other.   “Rachel Getting Married” is a textbook example of doing that well – it’s exhausting, tear-jerking, and painful, but also warm and loving and beautiful.

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