With the holidays closing in more quickly than you know, many of us face looming family reunions. Such is the subject of Rachel Getting Married, Jonathan Demme's much-discussed return to his pre-Silence of the Lambs style of filmmaking. (The shaky handheld camera will tell you, if you didn't already know, that Demme is getting real with this one.) Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is indeed getting married, but it's her sister, Kym (Anne Hathaway)—an ex-model, lifelong drug addict, and alcoholic who's been in and out of institutions since causing a family tragedy as a young teenager—who demands to be the center of attention.
Granted leave from rehab for the wedding, Kym, damaged as she is, is unwaveringly sober, but full of compensatory neediness. Hathaway bravely plunges forward in the role, embracing the unattractive tendency of her character to suck all the air out of the room. (The well-intentioned attempts made to make Hathaway look busted—she's saddled with a bad haircut, too much eyeliner, and a black eye—are only partially successful, making good use of the whole "ex-model" loophole.)
As realistic and substantial as all the family drama contained in this film may be, all the shouting and bad behavior is a bit much to impose on an audience of individuals who surely have their own unique family dynamics to worry about soon—must we also suffer this fictional family's tantrums at such close range?
What's more compelling than the drama in the foreground are the social dynamics of the wedding Kym spends the film disrupting. The groom, Sidney (TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe), is a professional musician, and the Indian-themed wedding is attended by an interesting and jovial assortment of family and friends—and for all of the crying and carrying on done by Rachel, Kym, and their parents, the most affecting moments of the film are when the central characters shut up and let the backdrop speak. A pre-wedding dinner round of toasts is perhaps the best scene of the entire film, with people of all ages and from both families half-drunkenly telling stories and jokes, and earnestly putting words to the commitment not just between bride and groom, but the respective entourages' alliance through the marriage. (Kym is, of course, the major wart in the "warts and all" acceptance in this arrangement.)
Demme's latest is a difficult, sometimes tiresome film, but it's also emotionally ambitious, and it offers a modern portrait of family life that depends very little on convention. It's infrequent to find this quality in mainstream American cinema, and one would hope that more of our successful directors would occasionally pass up grandiosity for examinations of the small, mean pieces of our lives.