Have you ever been to a wedding where you didn’t actually know the bride and groom? Maybe you were a plus one or the neighbor’s kid, added last minute to fill a seat? Well, that’s how I felt at the nuptials in Ted Demme’s Rachel Getting Married. I spent much of the film wondering, “Why am I here? I don’t even know these people.” And yet I still had to sit through the endless speeches at their rehearsal dinner, ceremony, and reception, and all the awkward family drama that littered each and every scene. Maybe I was supposed to think, “Wow, this couple’s diversity and love of eclectic traditions and music warms my heart.” But when I wasn’t rolling my eyes, I was looking at the clock.
The awkwardness I felt was very intentional. As a voyeuristic audience member I was nervous and uncomfortable when dysfunctional Kim (Anne Hathaway) came home from rehab for the wedding. Kim, who only thinks of herself and shits on everyone just to make sure she is in the spotlight at all times. Always self-deprecating, always holier-than-thou. From the get-go I couldn’t stand her, but was that Kim or was it Anne Hathaway, the bubbly teen from Princess Diaries all grown up? The fact that her character annoyed me so much means she must have done something right!
The family saga is complex and heartbreaking, and not one of them—from Tom Irwin’s impressive performance as the desperate father; Debra Winger as the detached mother; or the fed-up sister, excellently played by Rosemary DeWitt—knows how to deal with their problems, either individually or collectively. It is for that reason that each family scene is so painful. For years they’ve been bottling up their pain and misdirecting their emotional support. Sounds just like a real family!
As you are consistently slapped in the face by skeletons-in-the-closet, it becomes increasingly clear that this family’s problems are not going to be resolved within the span of a weekend wedding or a two hour movie. If anything, I left feeling drained, depressed, and dissatisfied. Characters may have come face-to-face with their problems and gotten a few gripes of their chests, but nothing was resolved. The elephant remained rigid in the room. Not just that—the elephant crashed the reception, caught the bouquet, and probably shagged the priest.
But I realize I may be in the minority. This movie did pretty well and earned Anne Hathaway an Oscar nomination—the performances were definitely the highlight. Overall, I felt that there wasn’t enough happiness to forgive the sadness, enough growth to make up for the selfishness, or enough cake to send me a slice through the ethers. Maybe Netflix can work on that last part.