The big problem with movies about drug addiction is that the dramatization typically simplifies things to the point of Pollyanna. Rarely do we get a glimpse of the family dynamics that often accompany drug addiction, unless those dynamics involve the disclosure of some lurking monster—a pedophile uncle, or a raging patriarch.
What’s refreshing and honest about Rachel Getting Married is that it strives to show a real family struggling with the burden of a daughter addicted to drugs. There is one horrific reveal that drives this drama, but this family secret doesn’t explain why Kym (Anne Hathaway) uses drugs. Rather it illustrates the nuance and complexity involved in this particular family’s dynamic: the father’s freakishly co-dependent need to care for everyone, brilliantly played by Paul (Would you like something to eat?) Irwin; the mother’s (Debra Winger) palpable distance from the rest of the family; and the daughters each appearing at opposite ends of the success scale, Kym an utter fuck up, and Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) a soon-to-be PhD.
No one walks away from this movie with a new resolve to behave better. Instead there is the realism of the unresolved emotional business for Kym and her mother. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t a downer. Rachel and Kym manage a truce that feels genuine. This is probably a testament to how good the script is. There is a gloriously agonizing wedding toast scene where Kym unintentionally humiliates Rachel. And then this scene is immediately followed by a companion scene where Rachel upstages Kym in a brilliant sibling verbal coup d’état. Both scenes are pitch perfect and make you wonder why anyone would want to start a family. But this bickering is all just a setup for the wedding itself, which seems genuine, heartfelt, and almost guaranteed to make you weep.
Rachel Getting Married isn’t cautionary tale. Nor does it make you long to be as hip as the drug addict at its lead. It’s just a genuine movie about how your family can destroy you and revitalize you, sometimes all at the same time. If drug addiction is a family disease, then surely the cure is as simple as this: LOVE.