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Movie Review

Family ties are said to be unbreakable even if they stretch thread thin. Such bonds endure because kinship tends to conquer even insult and injury, two things families often dish out like meatloaf at dinnertime. Few demonstrate this better than Kym and Rachel Buchman in Rachel Getting Married. As Kym says, "It's about sisterhood."

Taken at face value, the title implies the movie is about Rachel. But this behind-the-scenes home video-esque picture actually centers on Kym, a sardonic, toxically needy recovering drug and alcohol addict who upstages her sister's wedding with her self-professed "harbinger of doom" presence. Seating charts and bouquets fall by the aisle in her crisis-addled wake.

She is a chain-smoking, mood-swinging calamity brimming with paranoia and wearing a palpable self-consciousness. Among her hobbies are sulking, narcissism, backhanded compliments and self-flagellation. Attending the wedding on a pass from her residential rehab center, she wants to be happy for her sister, but ends up compulsively trying to ruin the ceremony so she won't be overshadowed by it.

Simultaneously codependent and oblivious, Paul, the girls' father, makes excuses for Kym's behavior, trying to erase it with food and placation. Divorced from Paul—due at least in part to the pain their family has felt over the years—Abby, their mother, has fully detached herself from both daughters, unable to deal with Kym's addiction or the death of her young son.

But the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and the reception must go on. And so must Rachel Getting Married.


Positive Elements

Kym seems to feel that her only source of unconditional love is Olive, the family poodle. But she's mistaken. Her sister, father and others are genuinely, though imperfectly, trying to love beyond her wounded, self-pitying exterior.

Though it could be construed as attention-seeking behavior—and Rachel certainly sees it that way—Kym uses a toast to apologize to her sister for making life difficult and being a "nightmare."

And it's a caring, supportive community of friends and family that attends Rachel's nuptial celebrations. They are thrilled for her and rejoice in her marriage. The Buchmans eagerly welcome Rachel's fiancé and his family to join theirs. The groom's clan warmly reciprocates. And when Rachel and Sidney cut their wedding cake, they invite everyone to help them, further uniting the group. Despite pre-ceremony, wedding party tension, everything goes smoothly and the couple expresses thankfulness for each other's love.

Within this marital bliss, Rachel Getting Married contains rival thoughts of idealism and realism. Its attitude seems to be that life isn't as bad as it could be (after all, Rachel is marrying a good man and Kym is trying to kick her addictions), but it's not as good as it should be (a family member is dead, Kym is still struggling, Paul and Abby are divorced). Making the best of disappointing reality is tough, but several of them are genuinely giving it a go.

Spiritual Content

Sidney's mother claims the joy and camaraderie that they all feel at the wedding is "just like it is in heaven." A friend from Kym's past says God is blessing him because he gets to see her again. Kym says God is punishing her.

Kym "struggles with God so much" because she doesn't want to believe in a God who could forgive her for a monstrous past. She tells her 12-step group that if they can't believe in Him, they should come to meetings for understanding. That group prays the Serenity Prayer.

Sidney's mother says she prayed for Rachel to come into her son's life. In Sidney's wedding prayer, he asks God to provide lots of dinner invitations since Rachel can't "boil water." The pair's wedding ceremony and vows are decidedly unspiritual, with Neil Young—not God—getting the final word.

Sexual Content

A day or two before the wedding, Sidney and Rachel announce that they're pregnant. The response from their families is unwaveringly unsurprised and uncritical.

Kym and Kieran (another addict and Sidney's best man) have sex in a brief, rhythmically choreographed scene that's shot from a distance and mostly in the dark. Afterwards, we see his bare chest.

A few couples share tender moments embracing and kissing. A reference is made to two girls kissing in high school. A wedding guest makes a sexual joke. Several women wear low-cut dresses or have bare midriffs. The camera ogles barely dressed samba dancers at the reception. One of the bridesmaids is shown in her camisole and underpants.

Though not sexual, there's a lot of skin shown when Rachel tenderly bathes a distraught Kym. (We see Kym's bare shoulders, knees and parts of her torso, but nothing explicitly private.)

Violent Content

During a gut-wrenching scene in which Kym confronts Abby about a past crisis, Abby moves from denial to shocking aggression toward her daughter. She clocks Kym so fiercely she sends her daughter reeling backward. Kym recovers, then slugs Abby just as violently, grabbing her hair and screaming at her.

After the fight, Kym drives through an intersection and off the road, plowing through a street sign and crashing into a wooded area. She isn't seriously injured, but the scene is tense with close-ups of her expressions and what the windshield reveals as the car smacks into a boulder. We aren't sure if she's simply crying so hard she can't see the road, or if she's half-heartedly attempting to end her own life.

Crude or Profane Language

Rachel Getting Married's intensely personal setting somehow draws attention to its characters' choice of words. And when they choose bad ones, it feels as though they're somehow swearing at you. The f-bomb is lobbed close to 20 times. The s-word six or seven. God's name is abused more than 30 times, once coupled with "d--n." Jesus' is abused three or four times. Milder profanities include "d--n," "h---," "a--" and "b--tard." Crude words are occasionally assigned to genitalia and a sex act.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Kym drags on cigarettes like they're lollipops, a light in her hand whenever she's stressed—which is almost always. She talks about Vicodin, helium, "horse tranquilizers" and Percocet. If it's a medicinal substance, Kym has probably taken it until she passed out. Wine and other forms of alcohol are strewn throughout the film, usually served at parties and dinners. Kym wisely sticks with seltzer when she shouts "l'chaim."

The recovery group Kym and Kieran attend is positive and encouraging, with members sharing how they overcame addition and are living healthier lives.

Other Negative Elements

Kym, who Rachel says "lies to everybody," is found out to have fibbed about her background during a previous stint in rehab. Instead of truthfully saying her family was supportive, she'd told fellow patients she was sexually abused by an uncle, and said her sister was anorexic and near death. She claims it wasn't a big deal and "no one got hurt" by her lies, but Rachel is devastated.

Eating disorders are mentioned several times, with the implication that Rachel has struggled with bulimia. Kym takes a drug test to prove she's clean, and we see her sitting on a toilet urinating with one thigh exposed.

[Spoiler Warning] Kym admits to being "unbelievably high" as a 16-year-old and driving off a bridge into a lake, killing her baby brother, Ethan, who drowned when she couldn't get him out of his car seat.


A journalist in Toronto recently told Anne Hathaway that watching Rachel Getting Married was like getting a "two-hour colonoscopy." Hathaway replied, "With or without anesthesia?"

I would say without—I walked out of the theater feeling like someone had kicked me in the gut. And part of me would like to dismiss this movie as merely a major downer. But panning it without a bit more pondering would be to overlook a gemlike theme: Hurt and scarred, the Buchmans are trying as best they can to love and overcome.

This isn't your family, precisely, but you might see elements of yourself and your own relatives in it.

Several critics have gone so far as to call Kym courageous. They see courage in her desire to battle her way back to common ground with her sister and father, and in the fact that she is in rehab trying to beat back her chemical demons. Her venomous antics, though, make me wonder about the choice of the word "courage." It seems to signify honesty in this case, but isn't there a difference between candor that confesses wrongdoing and strives to change, and self-disclosure that just seeks attention? Because while Kym is transparent, she's not really vulnerable; her confessions don't allow people to speak truth into her life, they instead seek pity as she mauls Rachel with cruel one-liners and poor-me grousing.

I can't imagine, though, that director Jonathan Demme was intentionally crafting a tribute to bravery—or insufferability. His film fairly reeks of trying to microscopically mimic the inanities, conundrums and loose ends of real life. And, so, just like your dangling relationship with a certain uncle, sister, cousin or mom, Rachel and Kym's relationship dangles. It ebbs. It flows. It meanders. And it's certainly not resolved in a movie's typical two-hour arc. The same goes for Kym and Dad, Kym and Mom, Dad and Mom, etcetera.

This is a film that spends dozens of minutes looking on as various family members and friends toast the bride and groom, wrangle over seating charts and wage dishwasher-loading competitions. So, no, Kym is neither a plucky heroine nor a steel-edged assailant. She's a sister. A daughter. And an addict trying to stay clean and live down the guilt of what she did when she wasn't.

Rachel once says, "The measure of a great life is not how well-loved you are, but how well you love others." She doesn't do a very good job of living up to her own ideal. But she tries. Kym isn't courageous. But she tries, too. And neither will ultimately let their lot in life or the other's intermittent meanness snap the tie that binds them together as family.

So I guess maybe there is a bit of anesthetic here after all. Not enough. But some.

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