Rachel Getting Married
Jenny Lumet and Jonathan Demme, 2008
#4, 2008 Skandies

Someone I knew in high school but haven't seen in over a decade is now a wedding planner, and after watching this movie and reading some reviews I found myself wondering what she'd think. So I left a comment on her blog — anonymously, in an attempt to circumvent any potential leftover drama from the 1990s. The result:

Anonymous said...
Have you seen the movie Rachel Getting Married? If so, as a wedding planner, what did you think of it?

[redacted] said...
No, sorry, I haven't seen the movie. I heard that it was good. I find that the more events I do, the less time I have for movies, though. What did you think of it?

Anonymous said...
Well, the critics' responses to the wedding itself ranged from "Wouldn't you love to attend a wedding like that?" (Ebert) to "a wedding one hopes is a joke but fears is not" (Andrews). I'm the sort of person who would rather just mail in the marriage license and not have a ceremony at all, so I wondered what an expert (e.g., you) would make of it.

[redacted] said...
Hi, Adam!


Anyway, I thought this movie was fairly good overall, but yeah, toward the end when the narrative dropped away and we were just supposed to enjoy the celebration or whatever I had to fast-forward to the part where the story resumed. And not just because I'm basically allergic to any type of ceremony or group revelry — watching the aftermath of a wedding in particular made me uncomfortable, because one thing this movie brought home for me was the extent to which I've been feeling pressured by the American and Canadian governments into submitting to an institution that I just don't really believe in. I.e., I can't move to the country where my girlfriend lives for more than a few months unless I can either get in as a skilled worker — unlikely, since my only documented skill is the ability to teach a slew of standardized tests that aren't required in Canada — or make a lifelong exclusive commitment that I guess I just don't understand as anything other than a holdover from societies that regarded women as a species of property. I don't really see what function it serves today.

First of all, marriage vows seem futile. They say that half of marriages end in divorce, but my experience as a Gen-Xer makes 99% seem like the more accurate figure even if the statistics say otherwise. And I don't think that's necessarily bad! It seems to me that relationships have lifespans of their own and those lifespans tend to be significantly shorter than those of the participants, and therefore the increase in the divorce rate over the past fifty years is a sign of a healthy acceptance of reality.

Now, I recognize that my experience may be idiosyncratic. I never really bonded with my family and so after I left home those relationships pretty much dissolved; at this point I have only the vaguest idea where my parents and siblings are and what they're up to. School friends are the same story: I periodically try to get back in touch with them, but the reconnections never stick. For a while I thought I'd found a long-term circle of friends in an online community, but gradually came to realize that I was at best grudgingly tolerated there. And then of course there's my previous relationship, which lasted six years: long enough that random Midwesterners boggled at the fact that we weren't planning to get married, and short enough that this decision turned out to be extremely smart. But, yes, I have lately heard of various couples, a bit younger than those in my parents' generation, that have stayed together for twenty years, thirty years. So? It seems to me that either those couples want to stay together, in which case the marriage vows are redundant, or they don't, in which case the vows are keeping them in a zombie relationship that isn't good for anyone.

I also think it's telling that so many reviews praised Rachel Getting Married for its skill in observing the way that familial relationships evolve into a kind of warfare. Again, just as there are couples that can somehow go decades without growing apart, I accept that there are relatives out there who get along fine. But when this isn't the case, I don't entirely understand why people stay in such close touch with people they don't actually care for just because they happen to have lived in the same house once upon a time and share fractionally more than the standard amount of DNA.

Anyway, what we've got here is basically a prodigal son story, though in this case it's a prodigal daughter: Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a drug addict who is let out of rehab to attend the wedding of good sister Rachel, and proceeds to behave in a predictably high-key and narcissistic fashion while the bride reels from the realization that, unless she does something, even her own wedding is going to be about her fuckup sister instead of her. And we soon learn that Kym isn't just a drug addict — she has done things that cannot ever be made better, things that recall Miranda Richardson's genuinely perplexed "Why didn't you kill yourself?" speech from Damage. I have mentioned in the past that the Christian preference for redemption stories over consistent good conduct, as emblematized by the parable of the prodigal son, is one of the things that most alienates me from Christianity, so it was nice that the filmmakers at least let Rachel have her say here.

Finally, in a negative review of the film, someone named Holly Grigg-Spall obsesses thusly: "there's a respect that will automatically be given to Anne Hathaway for enduring a bad haircut for her role [...] Anne, we know you aren't a drug addict — a bad haircut won't fool us [...] Anne Hathaway with a bad haircut might be the only problem at this wedding [...]"

Except... it's not a bad haircut! I actually made a mental note during the film that her haircut was quite fetching. It's pretty close to what I had in mind for Echo Mockery's hair, actually... but then, Echo never did have much luck with the Holly Grigg-Spalls of the world, did she?

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