I can't imagine anybody but Jonathan Demme making a film quite like Rachel Getting Married. Best known for directing the thriller The Silence of the Lambs, the biggest critical and commercial success of 1992, Demme has also earned a following for his earnest politically-progressive documentaries such as Jimmy Carter Man from Plains (2007) and The Agronomist (2003), and his innovative concert films such as Stop Making Sense (1984) and Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006). Among the finest films of 2008, Rachel Getting Married provides a traditional narrative fiction, vérité style, and the use of superb contemporaneous musical performances in a way that we haven't seen before, but which seems to be a logical culmination of Demme's oeuvre.
Written by Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney Lumet), Rachel Getting Married is a family drama about Kym Buckman (Anne Hathaway), a recovering drug addict released from rehab to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) at the sprawling Connecticut home of their father Paul (Bill Irwin), a well-regarded music producer. But through the family drama consisting of sisterly rivalry for parental attention overshadowed by a past tragedy is intense, it's too conventional to be the reason to see this film for most indie film fans.
What makes Rachel Getting Married a must-see is how successfully Demme makes the viewer feel like a guest at an extraordinary wedding weekend. It never feels like Demme and his actors are staging scenes for a theater audience, but rather that we are participants in their reality. Reminiscent of the films of Robert Altman, Demme provides multiple stimuli competing for our attention, and relies on cinematographer Declan Quinn and editor Tim Squyres to find the most compelling elements. Though Quinn's handheld HD camera is rarely seen, the consumer-grade digital cameras of Quinn's assistants, who do double duty playing wedding guests, are. With supplemental lighting discreetly hidden and production crew absent or disguised as guests, Quinn has extraordinary range to chase after whatever catches his eye, giving the whole film an exhilarating sense of freedom.
Joining the Buckman clan at the house are a diverse group of family and friends populated by a fine ensemble of actors and musicians drawn almost exclusively from New York City. Musicians Tunde Adebimpe and Donald Harrison Jr. have significant roles while Robyn Hitchcock and many others perform. Remarkably, the music on the soundtrack is recorded on set contemporaneously with the dialogue providing yet a deeper sense of realism and wonder.
Recorded primarily on a professional-grade HD camera with supplementary commercial-grade DV, the 1.78:1 image, encoded in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, looks no better than can be expected. The transfer itself appears to be flawless, but the image suffers from motion jitter and blurring and limited detail.
The quality of the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) audio is in keeping with the look of the film. Though nothing shines especially here, it's impressive that it sounds as good as it does given the limits of what could be done on set free of boom mics and without much post-production supplementation. Dialogue is not always as clear as one might hope, but it's always generally understandable even when competing with background music.
A French 5.1 DD dub is also provided along with subtitles offered in English, English SDH, and French.
The Blu-ray release of Rachel Getting Married offers plenty of extras but nothing indispensible and nothing much that isn't also on the DVD release. First up is two commentary tracks. Oddly one of the tracks features actress Rosemarie DeWitt by herself, while the other features producer Neda Armian, screenwriter Jenny Lumet, and editor Tim Squyres. Alas, the failure to include Jonathan Demme and Anne Hathaway among the participants is disappointing though both appear elsewhere in the extras.
Standard definition extras include "The Wedding Band" an eight-minute featurette about the soundtrack, "A Look Behind the Scenes of Rachel Getting Married" (15:48) which is conventional but seemingly more genuine than typical behind-the-scenes featurette, a fifty-minute "Cast and Crew Q&A at Jacob Burns Center featuring Jonathan Demme and eight members of the cast and crew, and nineteen minutes of entertaining but superfluous deleted scenes.
The only high-definition extras consist of trailers for this and other Sony Pictures Classics releases.
Rachel Getting Married offers a refreshing approach to conventional family drama that should appeal to a broad audience, but which will especially resonate with indie film fans with eclectic musicals tastes. This release is highly recommended for the excellent content and faithful presentation, though budget conscious collectors may wish to go with the standard DVD which likely offers only marginally inferior image and audio quality.