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This is my final full day in California and a complete inventory of how terrific my time here has been would be both indulgent and long-winded, but the sweetest surprise was how absolutely lovely a time I had with my extended family during Christmas and New Year’s.

Holidays are always the most stressful time, and combine it with it being the only time you (read: I) get to see your large family is alchemical for frustration and resentment and criticism. My relationship to the vast majority of my extended family has been fraught with these emotions for about as long as I can remember. But for every grandmotherly utterance of “When are you getting married?” there was a round of Sambuca shots; for every argument about George W. Bush’s presidency, a sing-along to Bon Jovi.

The myriad, complicated feelings inspired by my family dovetailed nicely with the experience in (and the experience I had in watching) Rachel Getting Married last week. It’s not without its flaws: Jenny Lumet’s casual screenplay has a maddening, meandering lack of dramatic structure while also finding time to insert such hoary narrative cliches like the Big Buried Tragedy. The multicultural liberal hipsterism of the family–interminable play by a live band, Neil Young songs, AntiWar Statements in front of decorated War Hero, ethnic theme wedding divorced from actual heritage of the participants–are so garishly presented that you almost wish someone would utter a racist epithet to change the tone of inclusivity. And Anne Hathaway has moments of occasional irritating hamminess, though in its way its a note-perfect performance, considering the irritating hamminess of her character.

But any of the film’s flaws seems to lead directly to its strengths. Lumet’s loose narrative fits snugly onto Jonathan Demme’s home movie aesthetic, and the false screenwriting notes are delivered perfectly by Bill Irwin as a placating father, Debra Winger as an absent mother, and Rosemarie DeWitt as perpetual second banana (even on her wedding!). The hyperbolic underlining of the family’s multicultural trappings begins to feel incredibly organic in both presentation (liberal white people are exactly this ostentatious) and in elicitation (you begin to feel the same kind of love and irritation towards them as you would your own family). Such endless devotional outpourings of love and togetherness and spirituality and MUSIC and yadayada, charming though they may be, quickly become a drag on both audience interest and comfort. Enter Hathaway, with an appallingly self-serving trainwreck moment that is at once exhilarating and exhausting, cringe-worthy in her dedication to a black sheep’s sense of martyrdom.

I’m not sure I would have had such a favorable reaction to Rachel Getting Married had I not just spent the holidays in California with my family. There were so many elements that provoked irritation and frustration, but the end result is a begrudging acceptance. The film seems to say “This is, for better or worse, your family, and you only ever get one, so love it.” And it says it in as honest a way, warts and all, as I’ve ever seen in a movie. How funny that I hear what it’ss saying and for the first time ever feel like the sentiment could be personally affecting and ring so true.


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