My brother married a Canadian woman. They exchanged vows in an Ontario border town situated at the most eastern and most southern point of Lake Superior. For the reception, the bride’s family–who had emigrated from Italy–supplied enough good wine to fill up all five Great Lakes. (All of it was consumed.) The maid of honor made a toast that used the word “fuck” in a tasteful manner. When the DJ played a Michael Jackson medley, a group of middle-aged men performed an impromptu half strip tease. After the reception, my cousin won two grand at a poker table at the border town’s casino. My other cousin hooked up with the bride’s best friend. Who was a smokin’ hot exotic dancer. (Not as much of a redundancy as you may think.) The morning after the wedding, I woke up in a bath tub. Wearing a tuxedo. With a big pile of gnarled chicken bones on my chest.
My college roommate–who went on to become an attorney–married an Indian woman who worked as a pediatrician. They celebrated their nuptials at a big country club just outside of Washington, DC. He made his entrance riding a massive pale horse. (The grounds of the country club wouldn’t accommodate an elephant.) Both of their families are Indian so the September ceremony stretched for nearly five hours. The club had four different bars, which allowed me to toggle comfortably between college football and the ceremony. In the course of that wedding day, I ate 40 lbs of food. And, by one conservative estimate, I ingested 11 gallons of curry. Along with seven gallons of bourbon. Also a conservative estimate. At the tail end of the wedding night, I was on the verge of winning $300 in a friendly game of cards. But I had to sell my chips when my other college roommate called me in a panic. He had wandered off very drunkenly from the reception several hours prior and had passed out somewhere on the club’s golf course. He hadn’t sobered up enough to navigate his way out of there and had rang a dozen people from the wedding party before I answered. It took five of us two hours scouring the fairways before we found him. It took all six of us another hour to escape that well-manicured jungle.
There was a different wedding where I “met” a chick at the reception then got “stuck” in a hotel room with her after we both “volunteered” to be bumped from our overbooked return flights. Then there was the wedding that was held at a museum. (I’m pretty sure the Chagall was damaged before we got there.) At another wedding, Fergie–who happened to be the groom’s first cousin–sang a Luther Vandross standard for the newly married couple to dance their first dance to.(*)
I haven’t been to a great many weddings, but a significant number of those I have attended have been…epic. In one way or another. So I feel like I know some shit about how weddings are really supposed to go down. And I feel qualified to declare that weddings–all weddings from this point forward–have been ruined by a movie.
Rachel Getting Married is not new. You may remember it. It came out a couple years back and earned Anne Hathaway her first Oscar nomination. The conceit is surprisingly simple: a recovering addict is released from a rehab center to attend her sister’s wedding which is being held at their father’s Southern Connecticut mini-estate. Rachel, the one getting married, is on the verge of finishing a PhD in psychology. The guy she’s marrying is a musician. We learn that–and a whole lot more–about the two people who are about to make a very happy couple as we watch the sister slash addict–played by Anne Hathaway–awkwardly integrate herself back into the broken family.
Why was it broken? Well…there was a tragic death in the family that ultimately caused the divorce of Mama Rachel and Papa Rachel. The Anne Hathaway character had something to do with the tragedy. And, to the chagrin of some, she was not the one who ended up dead because of it. I won’t say much more about the plot as the flick has been running pretty regularly on pay cable and, since it is very 8-y, you should definitely see it if you haven’t already.
Before the film ruins weddings, it is first an exploration of family. And, as the members of Rachel’s blood and extended families mingle to administer to all the details of the wedding, we get some interesting insight into how a family can function.
On its face, the prospect of being part of a family is good for one’s health and rewarding for the soul. There will be someone to pour hydrogen peroxide over your bloody, gravel-filled knee after you lose control of your bicycle. There will be someone to cheer your name when a diploma is handed to you. And there will be someone who cries joyfully on the happiest day of your life. Between all those big, boldfaced moments on the time line of a family, there are the little moments that, when taken together with the boldfaced moments, raise a larger question: does a family prop each other up or hold each other back?
(There is, of course, such a thing as a dysfunctional family. But that has far less to do with the family and much more to do with the dysfunction. To be frank, that type of conglomeration is a vomitous pile of something that was supposed to taste good, but instead caused a revolt of the taste buds of all involved.)
Rachel Getting Married kinda makes us think “hold each other back” is the answer. As we learn about the addict, her addiction and how her family tried to navigate its way through their own special ring of hell, we see that love is only as valuable as it is intelligent. Blind support or desperate affection is extremely counterproductive–for all parties involved. You probably could pick up any of a dozen semi-crappy romantic comedies to obtain that cliched revelation. What makes Rachel Getting Married a valuable movie experience is the raw way in which each character gets to have their own moment to make the case for “propping up” or “holding back.” As each character does, we find that the truth–as it usually does–lies somewhere in the middle. Families do both. They can’t help it. Smart families recognize when they’re holding each other back and they make the necessary choices to get back to the propping. Those families who aren’t smart enough…well…they struggle together. Or, rather, because of each other. Until the day comes when they figure it out.
But this wasn’t supposed to be a rant about families, now, was it?
In the movie, Rachel Getting Married, the coolest wedding proceedings imaginable unfold casually and carefully. We start with what appears to be the rehearsal dinner. There’s no nervous walk-through followed by slightly tense interactions between families and friends who wil be forced to share at least a part of each other. Instead, there’s a concert. Or, to be more accurate, a series of performances. By a dope electric guitarist. A dope spoken word artist. A dope jazz ensemble. A dope comedian. A dope choir. In short, the whole shit was dope. (The groom was actually played by one of the dudes from TV on the Radio, I think.) And then they sat down for dinner where everyone took turns giving speeches about the bride and groom. Both of the Moms. Both of the Dads. All of the Siblings. Both of the Best Friends. A number of the not-so-best friends. And…I kid you not…Fab 5 Freddy.
Yeah. THAT Fab 5 Freddy.
And that brings us to the ultimate lesson from Rachel Getting Married–the one that ruined weddings forever moving forward.
You and I have both been to some pretty amazing weddings where some outrageous characters have done some exceedingly memorable things. You’ve probably seen some crazy drama from an evilbitch bridesmaid or dumbass dude who can’t hold his liquor. (You may have performed in one or both of these roles.) Since weddings all need to accomplish the same thing–to legally tether two people to each other–they all kinda have to exist within the same framework regardless of the richness associated with any particular tradition.
Since we know the ultimate spoiler to every wedding proceeding–the groom will kiss the bride and they’ll march off happily into the ever after–wouldn’t it be cool if all the players who make up the scenes that comprise the wedding could be cast instead of invited? And wouldn’t it be cool if you could write those scenes yourself rather than conforming to some overused script?
Like, instead of some random cotton-topped dude sitting at Table 7 trying not to stare at the cleavage of the 19-year-old blonde at Table 6, why not have Fab 5 Freddy chomping on a cigar and teaching the assembled children how to properly tag a subway car? Or telling stories about crazy nights spent in some Jamaican shanty town? Or doing whatever Fab 5 Freddy does to be cooler than 100 polar bears’ toenails?
Maybe you wouldn’t cast Fab 5 Freddy–if you wouldn’t then you should probably unfriend me everywhere on and off the internet–but there’s gotta be someone you could dream up to be a guest star at your wedding who would be far more interesting and entertaining than your co-worker from two jobs ago who you haven’t talked to in a year.
Going back to the movie, Fab 5 Freddy was just one of several elements that pushed the proceedings several stages past epic. There was a whole lot more music on the actual wedding day. A samba troupe. A folk singer and his band. A Jamaican dance hall singer. An alt-rock band. A DJ. And maybe a couple others I’m forgetting. The ceremony itself borrowed from Hindu and Judaic traditions and was executed with surprising simplicity. Mr. and Mrs. Rachel exchanged original vows which each ended with a simple phrase, “Thank you for marrying me.” The bride’s vows quoted her father. Most of the groom’s vows consisted of him singing a verse from a Neil Young song. When it came time for the officiant to make things official, he asked both the bride and the groom, “Do you?” When it was time for food to be served, the bridal party–even the dolled-up Rachel–tied on some aprons and delivered plates piled with meats grilled by an unnamed uncle to the hungry attendees. Also, there was an actual Wedding Czar played by the wildly entertaining poet Beau Sia.
So there was much more to the nuptials in Rachel Getting Married than just a bunch of dope artists. There was an aura of mutual compassion, an element of service, a subtext of humility and an eagerness to celebrate the genuine love two souls share for each other.
Your friends and family may love you, but are they truly worthy of being cast to perform in your wedding scene? More importantly, what kind of wedding scene can you dream up? Who cares if your family is Chinese and her family is Irish Catholic? What’s the coolest possible thing you could say to your soul mate in front of a room full of people? Cumbersome white gown or comfortable purple sari? Do you really need cake? Or would you prefer to leap into a pool filled with chocolate pudding? Do you have to have a priest or would you rather have an emcee preside over your loving shenanigans?
Whatever you do, don’t forget to invite Fab 5 Freddy. You can no longer have a proper wedding without him.
* 87% of the three introductory paragraphs is completely true. But I can’t remember exactly which 87%.