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'Rachel': An Unconventional, Memorable Walk Down the Aisle

By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 10, 2009 12:00 AM

By now, most of us are familiar with The Wedding Movie, that glossy, predictable, romantic-comedy subgenre in which women morph into bridezillas, skittish grooms come to terms with commitment and, if Abba is involved, all the guests break into song.

"Rachel Getting Married" -- out today on DVD ($28.96) and Blu-ray ($39.95) -- is so not a Wedding Movie. Sure, it boasts its share of dysfunctional family drama and arguments about who will sit where at the reception. But with his on-the-fly, documentary-style approach to capturing the nuptials of Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe of the band TV on the Radio), director Jonathan Demme gives us a more truthful and moving depiction of a wedding weekend than most frothy, buttercream Hollywood fare ever dares to attempt.

Demme certainly deserved some sort of statuette, or at least (hello, Academy?) an Oscar nomination, for his bold approach to crafting "Rachel," which involved placing cameras all over the sprawling Connecticut house where the film was shot, catching the actors in unscripted moments and, remarkably, recording the score as it was performed live within the walls of that same Victorian.

"We decided not only to not rehearse, but to truly not know where the shot was," Demme explains during "A Look Behind the Scenes of 'Rachel Getting Married'," one of two featurettes on the DVD. It's that sense of spontaneity that makes "Rachel" feel refreshingly real, even when that reality leads to some truly wrenching scenes involving Rachel's sister Kym (Anne Hathaway, in her Oscar-nominated role), a recovering addict struggling to forgive herself for a life-altering mistake that forever knocked her family off its axis.

The DVD's extras provide more details about that liberating filmmaking process. But in order to get a full picture of what went on behind the scenes, viewers really need to sit through all of the supplemental material, which, in addition to the pair of featurettes, includes nine deleted scenes, a cast and crew Q&A filmed at New York's Jacob Burns Center and a pair of commentary tracks. Unfortunately, the bonus content isn't compelling enough to hold most attention spans; many viewers will probably bail long before they finally learn that (fun fact!) the movie was shot in just 33 days.

Another disappointment: several key contributors to the film -- including Hathaway, Demme and co-star Debra Winger -- appear only briefly on the DVD and opt out entirely from the commentary tracks. Other cast and crew members, including Rosemarie DeWitt and screenwriter Jenny Lumet, gamely attempt to fill those audio gaps, but the notable absences are still felt.

The deleted scenes -- which include a devastating series of exchanges in a receiving line, an appearance by legendary filmmaker Roger Corman and additional footage from "Rachel's" sublime rehearsal dinner scene -- emerge as the extra most deserving of attention. But the truth is, if you choose to watch the movie and skip the features altogether, you'll still wind up with a wedding gift worth cherishing: this emotional, vibrant, unflinchingly honest look at the ripple effects of two people saying "I do."

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