“Rachel Getting Married” isn’t like any other Jonathan Demme movie. It’s not like any other movie I can think of at all. This one is truly something wild.
The story begins with a black-sheep daughter named Kym (Anne Hathaway) checking out of her latest drug rehab and heading back to her family’s country estate in Connecticut, where elaborate preparations are under way for the marriage of her white-sheep sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). I don’t know what alternative Nutmeg State this is supposed to be, but the notion of a wealthy white Connecticut family happily gathering to celebrate the nuptials of their daughter (a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, I believe) and her fiancé, an elegant black musician named Sidney (TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe), with an all-night multicultural rave on the vast back lawn struck me as, well, more likely to occur in a better world than the one in which we live. Characteristically, Demme, working from a lively script by first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet, places no emphasis whatsoever on the movie’s many racial and ethnic intertwinings, which suggests that he may already be living in that better world.
The most inventive aspect of the movie is that it’s shot exactly like a wedding video, with handheld cameras careening in and out of focus and elbowing their way through sprawling groups of celebrants (the picture has a very large cast). Sometimes this narrative strategy can become a little too verissimo — when one after another of the rehearsal-dinner guests stands to hoist a glass and deliver a rambling salute to the happy couple, wedding-phobic viewers may feel like crawling out on the porch for a smoke. But as the story takes shape from the dialogue, much of which seems almost overheard, and from the characters’ relationships, which are in many cases implied more than specified, Demme builds a vibrant portrayal of familial devotion, with all of its bitter little conflicts and buried sorrows. One can only marvel at the off-hand manner in which he’s accomplished this.
The picture is distinguished by a number of fine performances, especially by Bill Irwin as the girls’ nervously ebullient father and Debra Winger as their remarried mom, still emotionally absent even in her presence at the wedding. There are also several returning faces from past Demme films, among them “Sister” Carol East (“Something Wild”), Fab 5 Freddy (“The Manchurian Candidate”), Paul Lazar (the bobble-eyed bug guy in “The Silence of the Lambs”) and lovable eccentric Robyn Hitchcock, who gets to sing two good songs. (The movie almost overflows with music, ranging from melancholy balalaika motifs to a romping Brazilian samba troupe.)
But the picture belongs to Hathaway. Burying her lush beauty under a raggedy hang of hair that looks as if it were styled with a bayonet, she’s all raw nerves and inappropriate outbursts, the family bad girl who once did something so bad that Rachel, at least, has yet to forgive her. Could this be the night?
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