It doesn't seem like the public at large is very familiar with the film "Rachel Getting Married." This isn't a surprise, since it wasn't marketed heavily and is only in limited release. But it is a shame, and hopefully--as newspapers start to do "Best Movies of 2008" lists and film awards are given out--it's on the verge of getting the attention it deserves.
"Rachel Getting Married" is fascinating because it's about recovery rather than addiction and about family rather than individuals. The main character is a twenty-something named Kym who is granted permission to leave her treatment program for a weekend to attend her big sister's wedding (Rachel of the title). Weddings under any circumstances can be stressful for a family, but Kym's presence adds an extra emotional charge. Kym is nine months sober after being in and out of treatment for years. Her family has become accustomed to Kym being the center of attention (she's used to it too), and so it's not surprising that Rachel is sensitive to the possibility that Kym's presence will distract from her wedding day.
Although Kym is the protagonist, perhaps the movie's greatest strength is that it's not about individual characters in isolation. It's really a film about an entire family--each character exists only in that context. Everyone in the family loves each other in a way that's extremely true to life. But their family dynamics have developed largely in response to Kym's addiction, and some of those dynamics don't transfer very well into a wedding. Addiction is often described as a family disease, and "Rachel Getting Married" shows both addiction and recovery squarely in the context of the family.
The most poignant scene of the movie comes when Kym gives a toast at the rehearsal dinner. She unintentionally rambles away from congratulating her sister and winds up talking self-absorbedly and at length about herself and her 12-step program, much to the awkward discomfort of everyone at the table (and the movie audience). "Since everything always revolved around her disease, she assumes now everything will be about her recovery," Rachel says bitterly afterward. But even though we see how grossly self-centered Kym is, at the same time her words, tone, and mannerisms all betray how desperately and viscerally wants to be accepted, loved, and forgiven by her family, even as she struggles to be accepting, loving, or forgiving of herself.
The movie doesn't conclude with any simple messages about addiction or recovery. Kym's strengths and weaknesses are both on full display (often simultaneously), and the movie includes several characters in long-term recovery. The very last shot of the movie is Kym being driven back to her treatment center--her recovery (and her family's recovery) is an ongoing process.
Roger Ebert gave "Rachel Getting Married" his highest rating, as did "Entertainment Weekly". New York Magazine ranked it as the best film of 2008, and just this morning Anne Hathaway was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe for playing Kym (the movie has already won several critics' awards). Anne Hathaway's portrayal of Kym is miles deeper than most of her previous roles in movies like "The Princess Diaries" or "The Devil Wears Prada," and she's an early favorite to get an Oscar nod as well. "Rachel Getting Married" was directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.
(Please note that "Rachel Getting Married" is rated R for lots of adult language and brief but explicit sexual content.)
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