Monday, February 13, 2023

Recasting 2008 (supporting): "Rachel Getting Married"

Similar to my last selection, I had not seen this week's pick prior to deciding to do a supporting recasting project. I watched a ton of movies during the first year of the pandemic, and I was happy to identify a role in Jonathan Demme's 2008 film, Rachel Getting Married, that would suit Meryl. Debra Winger hadn't really done a lot of movies in the decade or so before this film was released. While not a huge role, her performance as Abby Buchman would've been an interesting one to see Meryl negotiate, in an excellent film to boot. 

The film follows Kym Buchman (Anne Hathway), who's released from a drug rehab center for a few days to attend her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. It doesn't take long for tensions to flare, as there are a slew of family resentments and grievances ready to be aired. Notably, Kym, while high on drugs years prior, drove into a lake with her little brother in the car with her, killing him. It's hard to imagine any amount of apologizing or request for forgiveness would make someone feel unburdened of that history. As welcoming as Rachel and their father (Bill Irwin) may be, it's obvious that Kym's presence in one way or another is both painful and exhausting. Kym of course feels this too, and can't help but attempt to paint herself as the victim of unrealistic expectations. This all makes for some of the most effectively awkward moments that I can recall seeing onscreen. 

At one point, Kym seeks refuge from her mother, now seemingly somewhat estranged from her daughters, and it doesn't exactly go well. 

Right when you think Kym is a selfish asshole, and that next to the victim himself, Abby is probably the person who's had to bear the worst of his loss, our minds get flipped a little bit. Kym demands to know why her mother chose to leave her in charge of her little brother. She makes a good point. Most of us probably put ourselves in the situation of imagining what we'd do if one of our children was known to be a drug addict, and whether or not we would be OK with placing another of our child in their care. Yikes. It's probably easy to say "no" right away. But do we really know? Like Abby says here, "You were good with him. You were the best you were with him." And, "I didn't expect you to kill him!" It's such a powerful and painful scene. Kym's sort of at a crossroads, and Abby has probably grappled with the question that only Kym will bring up. They both feel responsible, and Abby ends up whacking her daughter across the face in one of the most realistic on-screen slaps I've ever seen. 

As I mentioned, it's not a huge role, but that scene alone could make for a great part. And Winger is exceptional here. The back and forth in this scene reminds me of Meryl being quoted (which I'm sure I've mentioned at some or many other times on this blog) as saying that she likes things that are "difficult." Not necessarily technically challenging things as an actor, but difficult moral or personal dilemmas in stories. They make us think and think differently. I like that, too, and it's one of the reasons I enjoy watching Meryl work so much. It's also why I could totally have seen her saying yes to a role like this one, perhaps if Jonathan Demme (who directed her four years prior in The Manchurian Candidate) would have approached her for it. 

Rachel Getting Married was Demme's best-reviewed film since 1991's The Silence of the Lambs. Its almost documentary-like feel was lauded by critics and made several top ten lists for 2008. Being more of an indie film, not a ton of people saw it when it was released, resulting in very modest box office returns. Winger did manage a Supporting Actress nom from the New York Film Critics Circle, as well as one from the Independent Spirit Awards. Hathaway, in likely the best performance of her career, won recognition from several critics' circles, as well as Lead Actress nominations at the SAGs, Golden Globes and Academy Awards.  


  1. Jeff I had this one as well but I somehow sensed you'd choose it too! As you say, a small role but powerful in very talented hands, the scene you chose above is hard to watch (in the best way). I also agree about this likely being Anne Hathaway's best performance (although I've seen very few!). I remember she tied with Meryl for the Critics' Choice.

    Speaking of 2008, I strongly feel Meryl should have won the Oscar, I've said it before but Doubt was a real triumph that wasn't as well received as it might have been. This was the first "awards season" I followed purely to see how Meryl would do.

    Connected to "Rachel Getting Married", I am sorry both of Meryl's collaborations with Demme didn't reach the heights they might have with some tighter writing, I think he can be great when the stars align, as they did here.

    1. I share your sentiment on the 2008 Oscar. It was time for Meryl to be awarded again. She probably deserved it for all three of her 2008, 2009, and 2011 performances.

      I also share the disappointment on her collaborations with Demme. Manchurian Candidate wasn't a bad movie, just not quite polished enough. I think you're right about the writing potentially being the problem. Same with Ricki almost a decade later. On paper it seemed such a great opportunity. Meryl was great, and there were nice parts, but the tone always seemed off to me. And I'm not a fan of Mamie's performance.

    2. Agree about the tone, I felt the middle part with the family was cut too short and the writing could have been more biting, like "Young Adult".

      I've finally got some time and started to watch some of the great movies suggested here, I must post my thoughts soon :)

  2. I thought I read somewhere before that Demme had actually offered the Debra Winger part to Meryl but she couldn’t fit it in her schedule.

    1. Yeah I haven't read that anywhere, but it wouldn't surprise me. has Isabella Rossellini having dropped out leaving the part open for Winger. Not sure if that's true.