This is always the perfect time of year to catch up on a backlog of DVDs. With a relative dearth of theatrical releases just after the Oscars and frequent releases of Oscar-nominated films on DVD, there are often more worthwhile new DVD releases than theatrical releases. Last week, three really good films released on DVD, Milk, Happy-Go-Lucky, and Rachel Getting Married. The first two were reviewed here shortly after they released in theaters. I finally watched the latter last night.
Rachel Getting Married features Anne Hathaway in one of her more mature turns as Kym, a recovering drug addict who returns home for her sister Rachel’s (Rosemary DeWitt) wedding. The film follows her throughout the weekend and focuses on her (in)ability to reintegrate with her family and friends, all the while dealing with the broken trust wrought by her addiction and a family tragedy that weighs heavily on her.
One of the highlights of the film is Hathaway’s performance. She effectively transitions from apparently-all-there, loving daughter and sister to enraged, wired, psychotic, recovering addict. This is a performance worthy of every ounce of praise that it received. However, I felt as if it, at times, got lost in the bohemian invasion that is the wedding party. The family and friends represent a diversity of races, talents, professions, etc. This is truly a beautiful gathering and a wedding that I certainly would want to attend. Yet, at times, director Jonathan Demme‘s obsession with the crowd is just a bit much and feels, occasionally, self congratulatory.
On the other hand, the camera work and Demme’s direction is another highlight of the film. It really does feel like you are attending this wedding and participating in the preparations for and discussions around it. His use of hand-held cameras, a staple of home-videos of weddings, never feels jarring or nauseating. Demme’s camera is always surrounded by people and sounds. We rarely have a silent or solitary moment which makes watching the film an exhausting experience, combined with Kym’s volatile personality.
As a deeply human story, Rachel Getting Married is full of theological implications. Addiction might be one of the most simultaneously spiritual and physical diseases of the human experience. A person develops a physical need for something, but this need and the fulfillment of it often carries spiritual components/results as well. What drives people to addiction? What keeps them addicted? What heightens or soothes their struggles with addiction in and after rehab?
A key scene in the film involves Kym’s testimony at an N.A. meeting. She is speaking about a specific instance in her life, but she might as well be talking about the entirety of it. Through tears, Kym admits:
I struggle with God so much because I can’t forgive myself. And I don’t really want to right now. I can live with it, but I can’t forgive myself. And sometimes, I don’t want to believe in a god that could forgive me. […] I’m alive and I’m present and there’s nothing controlling me.
This really does sum up Kym’s life, but the last line here is unfortunately, painfully short-sighted. She is under an external control. Ironically, throughout the entire film, it doesn’t seem to be an addiction to a particular substance but rather guilt and an inability to forgive herself that wrecks her life and eats away at her relationships. These lines are so valuable because they challenge all sorts of thoughts about forgiveness and justice. We so often expect to be forgiven or anticipate forgiveness for ourselves. Very rarely do we encounter a person who refuses forgiveness outright. It’s not that Kym can’t believe in a god that would forgive her, it’s that she doesn’t want to believe in a god that would forgive her. These lines reveal that, for once, God is not the problem in Kym’s life. She presumes that God is forgiving: she just doesn’t want any part of it.
Rachel Getting Married is a challenging film to watch…bohemian invasion aside! It should challenge us to think of how far-reaching we perceive God’s loving, forgiving, and life-giving power to be. More importantly, it shows us that we have a say in its effectiveness as well.
Rachel Getting Married (113 mins.) is rated R for language and brief sexuality and is available on DVD.