Anne Hathaway delivers one of the best performances of her career in Jonathan Demme’s 2008 film, Rachel Getting Married.
We have Sidney Lumet to thank for Jonathan Demme deciding to direct this film. Lumet had suggested that Demme read a screenplay written by his daughter, Jenny, and the rest is history. Jenny Lumet’s script takes audience in such a different direction than one might expect going into the film. It sometimes helps to go against the rules and that’s to the benefit of this film.
Kym Buchman (Anne Hathaway) departs rehab so that she can go home as her sister, Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt), is getting married. What should be a celebratory weekend soon sets the stage for quite the drama. Lumet’s screenplay does not play by the rules so it really becomes a wedding weekend of anything goes. Demme makes us care about these characters even if the script doesn’t exactly go in that direction. Kym’s history alone should make us not like her but Hathaway’s performance leads us to care about her in a way that only an audience can. Although all of Lumet’s screenplay makes it into the film, the spontaneity during filming is what elevates the material. Lumet’s script doesn’t include the score or what actors bring to the film on a given day. That’s all happening in the moment.
The wedding does not feel like a cinematic wedding. Instead, it feels like a real wedding. People are not showing up solely because their name appears on a call sheet. No, it’s because there’s a good chance that they would know the couple if this were real life. Most on-screen weddings probably would not consider taking this approach. It is what gives the wedding a realistic feel–well, both that and the home video approach, which I’ll discuss in a moment. Speaking of the wedding, Demme also opts for a real band rather than turning to scoring the film during post production. Another choice in the wedding: putting cameras into the hands of select guests on top of the production cameras.
Maybe it’s because of Demme having a mixture of documentary and narrative background but they make some interesting choices here. One such choice is Demme and cinematographer Declan Quinn’s decision to shoot the film as if they were filming a home video. In this vein, they didn’t rehearse before filming. Nor did they plan any of their shots. One might expect this while filing a documentary but definitely not in a narrative feature. But again, I find that the choices work for the film in particular. It might not always work but it helps having a cast that is willing to go along with it. And again, Anne Hathaway delivers one of the best performances of her career! Would this happen if Demme used a traditional approach to filming? Given Hathaway’s talent, this is quite possible.
Anne Hathaway’s performance would lead to the the film’s only Oscar nomination. Mind you, it was the last year of five Best Picture nominees. Could it get a Best Picture nomination with more nominees? It is something to think about. Obviously, the 2008 rules were substantially different from 2009. It didn’t get a Best Picture nomination at the Critics Choice Awards but Hathaway tied for Best Actress. If you ask me, the film is one of the stronger films from 2008. I’ll have some thoughts of my own after I visit a number of 2008 releases for 15th anniversary reviews. The main reason for the delay is October 7th changing up my schedule.
Sebastian Stan has a bit part in the film as both Walter and Bowtie Party Guest. Originally, the character was going to be a woman. They liked him so much that they brought up back for the party as a different character. The home video release includes a Q&A in which Demme says: “We’re gonna see him in lots of stuff. He’s just a fantastic young actor.”
Rachel Getting Married features a stunning Anne Hathaway performance and manages to stand out from the crowd because of the decision to film it as a home video.
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme
SCREENWRITER: Jenny Lumet
CAST: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Anisa George, Robyn Hitchcock, Sister Carol East, Beau Sea, Carol-Jean Lewis, Fab Five Freddy, Andre Blake, Tamyra Gray, Victoria Haynes, Kyrah Julian, Roslyn Ruff, Sebastian Stan, and Debra Winger
Sony Pictures Classics Rachel Getting Married in theaters on October 3, 2008. Grade: 4.5/5
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