Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Psalm 25: 6-11
This film about guilt and reconciliation contains some of the best rehearsal and wedding dinner scenes that I have seen since The Deer Hunter or The Godfather. Kym (Anne Hathaway) has been furloughed from a rehab hospital to attend her sister Rachel’s wedding. Thus everyone at the large interracial gathering (the groom Sidney, played by singer Tunde Adebimpe, is African American) are a bit on edge, and with good reason, with Kym soon expressing her repressed feelings of sibling rivalry and recrimination against her mother.
Kym, surprised that the Best Man is also a member of her 12 Step group, soon is in bed with him, as well as at odds with Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). Uncertain as to whether her sister would even be able to attend the wedding, Rachel had asked her best friend Emma (Anisa George), to be Maid of Honor. They quarrel, with Kym insisting that she should fill that role. Amidst all this bickering their father Paul (Bill Irwin) tries to maintain family tranquility, and soon order and merriment are restored. The in-laws and friends make up a rainbow of races, and at one point the groom’s mother says, looking around at all the people, who have such moving things to say about the couple, “And this is like it is in heaven. Just like this.” Indeed, we can agree that the gathering around the sumptuous meal is a foretaste of the Messianic banquet—it is so good to see such racial mixing in a film in which race is not an issue with anyone in the story! Of course, it helps that the groom is a singer and record producer, so that many of the guests are his fellow musicians, who come in all genders and races.
The 12-Step meetings are shown in more detail than is usual in a film, with various members confessing their addiction and the others chiming in with their verbal support. This seems to help Kym confess the terrible event 10 years earlier, for which she still carries the heavy burden of guilt. She and the members speak of God as a very real part of their lives, although she cannot fathom how God figures into the car crash in which she lived and her baby brother died because she could not get him out of his car seat in time
The girls’ father Paul has remarried, and though his 2nd wife Carol (Anna Deavere Smith) has far fewer lines than the others, she standing back discretely when Kym raises a fuss and Rachel fires back at her, she is an important part of the proceedings. She obviously loves Paul and the two daughters, offering sympathetic looks at them, and going about making sure that everyone is comfortable and well-served. All the other members of the supporting cast are also excellent, especially Debra Winger as Abby, the first wife, whom Kym finally confronts about the past accident, asking a soul-wrenching question that amounts to a charge or blame that she was as responsible for the boy’s death as Kym. Little wonder that Anne Hathaway (Kym) has been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.
The film amply displays the versatility of director Jonathan Demme, this being a far cry from his Silence of the Lambs. The script by Jenny Lumet is her first to be filmed, though everyone expects there to be many more: she comes by her talent by inheritance and environment, her father being the famed director Sidney Lumet. Thanks to her script and a talented cast and crew, this bitter sweet film displays the joy and the anguish that can emerge from a festive occasion.
May contain spoilers.
1. During her talk with the African American attendant were you aware at first that Kym was leaving a mental institution? And did you wonder why Paul did not want her to drive to her 12 Step meeting?
2. How accepting did you find the meeting? Do you find as much acceptance at your church? Is there as much honesty? Hard to fool anyone at an AA meeting, isn’t it?
3. What do you think of Kym’s view of God and of her guilt? Who is often more forgiving when we make a terrible mistake—ourselves or God? (See question 7 of I Have Loved You So Long.) What might Kym learn from the Psalmist?
4. How did you feel during the family/friend wedding scenes? Have you been a part of such gatherings where racism seems to belong on another planet? How is the gathering and the fine words a great tribute to Rachel and Sidney? What do you think of the hippy or New Age liturgy—a bit much?
5. At what points do the characters, especially Kym, receive grace? How are we prepared for the revelation of the reason for her feelings of guilt—especially when she first came home and stopped to gaze at the child’s room? Did you think it was hers?
6. When Kym drove off in anger from the house what did you expect might happen? What signs of reconciliation do you see occurring?
7. What do you think of the role of the father in the story? How is he often caught in the middle of his two warring daughters? Do you think that Rachel has a right to be resentful that Kym draws so much attention to herself on what should be Rachel’s day?
8. What did you think of the spare filming technique? Did the handheld camera shots make you feel a bit dizzy or unanchored at times? How did this add to the realism, similar to that of a home wedding video? (Note that cinemaphotographer Declan Quinn also shot Monsoon Wedding.)
9. There is a great amount of music in the film: what does it contribute?
10. There have been hundreds of films about weddings: compare this to some of your favorites.
11. What signs of hope did you see at the end of the film, especially in the scene in which Rachel dresses the wounds of the battered Kym? Forgiveness does not always come easily, does it? Are there instances in your family’s past that still need the ointment of forgiveness to heal an old wound?
12. Reflect on the comment, “The measure of a great life is not how well you are loved, but how well you love.” This was not a typical light comedy with everything neatly resolved at the end, was it?