I wish I had watched this one later, because it would have been even more refreshing. Rachel Getting Married is not so much a wedding movie as it is a movie in which a wedding happens. And the wedding actually happens, which distinguishes it from all the other movies I’ve thus far reviewed.
Anne Hathaway stars in both this and Bride Wars, suggesting she chooses scripts with an angel and a devil sitting on her shoulders. The difference between watching the weddings that appear in Bride Wars and the wedding that appears in Rachel Getting Married is like the difference between watching a season of Platinum Weddings [disclaimer: I have never actually seen that show] and browsing through the Wedding Graduates on A Practical Wedding [newly relaunched, yay!].
Rachel Getting Married is mainly a family melodrama (which for some people will make it even more realistic), but it is clear the filmmakers went to great pains to make the wedding as genuine a backdrop as possible for all the fights and recriminations and monologues. The film does a wonderful job capturing the joy, togetherness, and celebration of weddings, and the high-strung feelings and sometimes painful emotions that crop up as well.
That realness is mainly accomplished through superb acting, as well as the handheld camera stylings (which I believe led one of my friends to walk out of the theater, so your mileage may vary). But there are also a series of spot-on details that support the feeling that this wedding could actually happen and I could actually go to it:
It rains. The choreography of the processional is too much for the flower girl to handle. The couple exchanges vows that are a little rambly, but still moved me to tears (the groom, played by TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adibimpe, provides perhaps the film’s best moment when he sings Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” to his bride at the altar). The guests laugh and woop and clap their way through the ceremony. People take photos with their pocket digital cameras:
Doesn’t that look more like a scene from a wedding than a scene from a wedding movie? I truly appreciated how the guests were of different ages, dressed to different levels of formality, and (this is the big one) not all white people.
The reception scenes also offer little notes of reality that warmed my heart: guests hovering around a lighter for a clearly-needed smoke break, a sullen teen leaning against a tent post while the drunk grownups around her get down, the bride wearing an apron while she carries plates of barbecue to her guests, as the groom’s shy brother captures it all on the video camera he hides behind.
It’s still a bit of a fantasy world. The combined family and their friends appear to have a glut of talent and money. There is literally a talent show before the rehearsal dinner in this movie. I tried to count how many different musical performers there are at the ceremony and reception but lost count after 12, including the not-me Robyn Hitchcock:
Some critics didn’t like how the movie cast many people of color and included several interracial relationships without comment. Personally, I really appreciated that not everyone was white in a wedding movie, and I didn’t need “an explanation” for the interracial couples or the diverse guests. But one thing that did bug me about Rachel Getting Married‘s unusual treatment of race was the Indian “theme” for the wedding (the bride and bridesmaids wear saris, the groom wears a flower garland, the wedding cake is topped with a large a blue fondant elephant), particularly because South Asians were not represented in the diverse cast, and there was no apparent connection between the bride and groom or their families to India. [Here's a nice post on the cultural appropriation in the film.]
Regardless, I suspect I’ll return to this film when I need a hearty dose of “yay, weddings!” I’d recommend it to anyone involved in a wedding, with the caveat that if your family suffers from very little drama, you might want to fast forward to the wedding parts because the bulk of the film might bore you. Additionally, if your family suffers from too much drama, you might want to use the same strategy to avoid nightmares about your own family’s grudges and sad memories and penchant for fighting in the kitchen taking over your wedding weekend. Also you might need to take a Dramamine.