Rachel Getting Married: Dysfunctional Family Functions

Rachel Getting Married: (2008): Movie Review

Guest blogger Amanda-Marie Howard writes:

Relatives and friends cheer on Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), fiancé to Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), and Paul (Bill Irwin),Rachel’s father, as they compete to see who can load the dishwasher the fastest and the most efficiently in director Jonathan Demme’s 2008 drama Rachel Getting Married. In the background, a man starts to play something that resembles “Flight of the Bumblebee” on his violin, as each participant takes his turn situating cups, bowls, and knives in the washer.

Scenes like this, ones that are so pleasant and carefree, don’t last long in movies, so it isn’t really a surprise when the merriment ends as soon as Paul picks up a paper plate that belonged to his dead son. Truthfully, I was happy that the scene was finally over. Those perfect moments in films always “ring false” for me because they are so far from reality. Not everything in life comes out streak-free with a lemon fresh scent, and Rachel’s sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) reminds viewers of that. In that scene Paul asks for more dishes, and Kym hands him the stack containing his son’s plate. The entire incident could have been avoided all together had she grabbed any other stack.

This is only one of the numerous things that Kym does which puts a damper on the festivities. Though the plate incident isn’t her fault, she does create many negative situations for herself and others during the course of the film. Kym is that paper plate. She’s the dish that throws everything off, the one you can’t look at without remembering all the bad things associated with it. Kym has to earn her place in her family, and find a way to make her presence bearable again.

The film focuses on Kym returning from rehab to participate in her sister Rachel’s wedding. Her sibling appears happy that Kym’s back, but while Kym has been away, Rachel has acquired a substitute sister, Emma (Anisa George). When Rachel and Kym reunite, Emma is seen tailoring Rachel’s dress, and Rachel eventually reveals that Emma will be the maid of honor in the wedding. Rachel didn’t choose Kym because she wasn’t sure that Kym would even be there. Kym occasionally seeks solace in Kieran (Mather Zickel), the best man and a former junkie. He seems to be the only one who actually understands what she is going through.

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED Starring  Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill IrwinIn the midst of these wedding preparations and celebrations Kym tells a lie here and there, and pushes away people like Rachel and Paul, who seem to be the only members of her immediate family attempting to salvage their relationships with her. Kym does not make it easy for them. At the rehearsal dinner she moves her seat between Rachel and Sidney because she doesn’t know anyone at the other end of the table. In that moment she resembles a child coming from the kid’s table, poking her head between her parents. Hathaway portrays this immature side of Kym well, tempering backhanded compliments and woe-is-me dialogue with just the right amount of sincerity and frustration.

Despite her behavior, Kym does not come across as an unlikeable character. Any hate that viewers may feel for her immediately turns to pity when we are introduced to her mother, Abby (Debra Winger). Abby is only present in a few scenes in the entire film, and we find ourselves sympathizing with Kym because we see how little time Abby spends with her. Out of her two daughters, she seems closer to Rachel, who she shares a small scene with in which they talk about the wedding and Kym. In this scene, Abby offers some motherly advice and the two share some laughs. The conversation appears very normal, typical of a mother and daughter. Abby is not capable of having that kind of bond with Kym. The small scene that they share turns violent and further strains their relationship. As viewers we realize that Kym is missing a crucial component in her life, which excuses some of her questionable behavior. Ultimately, though Kym is not the most honest character, it’s still possible to have positive feelings toward her.

Despite the strength of its cast, who did a stellar job with the material they were given, Rachel Getting Married could benefit from some script reorganization. For example, the dead son comes up twice before we find out how he died, and his name is left out all together in the first explanation of his death. Viewers are left to assume that the little brother Kym mentions in a story at a support group meeting is the person everyone keeps referencing. Though it is easy to match the name with the incident, all of the conversations surrounding the son’s death, which contain subtle and blatant hints concerning his identity, become a little irritating after a while.

Rachel Getting Married Starring  Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill IrwinRachel and Kym’s childhood struggles also don’t reveal themselves until deep into the film. When Kym first sees Rachel when Emma is tailoring her dress, Kym says to Rachel, “I would swear to god that you were puking again” and Rachel responds with a laugh. This idea, that Rachel could have an eating disorder, disappears and doesn’t resurface until about an hour in. Perhaps it should have been mentioned sooner, because by the time it comes back the audience has forgotten about it. I realize that all of these events are withheld to keep us guessing, to make us want to watch the rest of the film, but I don’t think that’s necessary.Screenwriter Jenny Lumet doesn’t need to employ this tactic because the story is compelling enough without it. If all of these plot points were revealed within the first hour of the film, I still would have kept watching, because I wanted to see how they were resolved, and how they affected Kym and her situation. I’m invested in her and her family, and knowing simple things like who her brother was and how he died, or if her sister did have an eating disorder, does not detract from that.

By the end of the film, I wanted to see all of Kym’s family members embrace her once again, making her feel supported and loved. I wanted to see her become the paper plate on the top of the stack, proudly displayed in the front of the cabinet. Her family doesn’t have to forgive her completely; they just have to keep trying.

Amanda-Marie Howard is an MFA student and is working toward a degree in Creative Writing.