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Recovery in the Movie "Rachel Getting Married"

December 11, 2008
by Daniel Guarnera
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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.




I too am glad to see that this film is getting attention now that the year-end awards analysis is under way. I have never seen or read any work of fiction that so accurately portrays the true nature of this insidious family disease. What is truly wonderful is that there was no trite message at the film's conclusionthe process continues for both the addict and her family. As the mother of a 27 year old heroin addict, now in early recovery, who basically ruined his sister's wedding (for me, anyway) my heart sure went out to Kym's dad. As I saw myself in him I felt very grateful to now have 4 years of Al Anon under my belt.

I am currently at work on a documentary film, The Addiction Revolution, and hope to get a feature release. This film will put a human face on addiction as a family disease, one in which the family members can be just as sick, if not sicker, than the afflicted ones. The time to get RECOVERY out of the closet is now.

Angelique, can you tell us more information about "The Addiction Revolution"? It sounds like a wonderful project. As you know all too well, the family-effects of addiction are still under-studied and under-appreciated by many people, but it's so critically important both the individual and system-wide levels.

Thank you for your comment, CSGI hope you enjoy it!

I never would have considered watching this movie except for your review - now I'm eager to. Thanks. CSG

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Daniel Guarnera

Daniel Guarnera is the Director of Government Relations for NAADAC, The Association for...

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