Ever been to one of those weddings that just will not end?
“Rachel Getting Married” is the cinematic equivalent, a movie with a powerful performance from Anne Hathaway but a story undone by the self-indulgence of director Jonathan Demme, who loiters interminably on some scenes.
Demme’s detours into documentaries (“Neil Young: Heart of Gold,” “Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains”) actually serve him well as he crafts a loose, docudrama style that infuses great authenticity into this anguished reunion tale of family and friends.
But Demme did the reflect-real-life thing almost too well. Many moments are genuine to the point where you feel trapped in a room with someone else’s relations in a marathon session of picking and clawing at old wounds.
As good as Hathaway and her co-stars are, a little of their characters’ recriminations and reproaches would have gone a long way. A lot of recriminations and reproaches is what Demme gives us, and “Rachel Getting Married” collapses under the weight of the family’s shared distress.
Stripping away her Disney-fied “Princess Diaries” persona for good, Hathaway delivers a harsh, uncompromising turn that should put her on the best-actress short list for the Academy Awards nominations.
Hathaway’s Kym Buchman is a user and abuser, a woman who became a hopeless addict in her teens then sank even lower after her drug habit led to a family tragedy.
Out of rehab for the wedding of her upright sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), Kym returns to the family homestead and immediately tries to make the hustle and bustle of preparations all about her.
The movie shares unfortunate thematic similarities to Nicole Kidman’s dreary sister tale “Margot at the Wedding” from last year, but since hardly anybody saw that one, “Rachel Getting Married” at least will be a fresh sort of dreariness for most viewers.
Kym and Rachel’s dad and stepmom, ably played by Bill Irwin and Anna Deavere Smith, try to make the black-sheep daughter feel welcome and wanted through a succession of awkward, often angry exchanges among Kym and her kin.
Much of the tension is deliberately initiated by Kym, who’s as much an addict of drama-queen histrionics as she is of chemical substances. Kym has interpreted the stages of her 12-step recovery program in a way that is horribly hurtful to her family, threatening the shaky peace that everyone hopes will prevail through Rachel’s wedding to musician Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe).
It’s a testament to Hathaway that despite the unpleasant depths she explores, Kym never comes off merely as the prodigal come home to douse a joyous weekend with her emotional baggage.
There are times you wish the family might show Kym the door (and some of her relations oblige, particularly her mom, played with intriguing remoteness by Debra Winger).
Kym dredges up unspoken guilt and blame that everyone else would prefer to leave buried. Against their will, the Buchmans undergo some kind of catharsis that may lay the foundation for better relations in the future.
Screenwriter Jenny Lumet, daughter of filmmaker Sidney Lumet, has created the broad arc of what could have been a thoroughly satisfying and perceptive study of how families deny, confront and regroup in the face of the worst adversity.
Where “Rachel Getting Married” strays is in the details – an endless and often boring sequence of toasts at a rehearsal dinner, repetitive bickering between maid of honour Kym and a bridesmaid, a bizarre mini-drama surrounding a competition over who can load a dishwasher the fastest.
Writer Lumet says she once witnessed her dad and Bob Fosse engage in such a dishwasher contest – an interesting bit of trivia that does nothing to make Demme’s re-enactment interesting to watch.
Demme weaves his love of music into the movie, orchestrating an organic musical score created out of live performances taking place throughout the household as the family’s many musical friends rehearse and jam.
Palestinian musician Zafer Tawil and jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. composed the score and perform throughout the movie. Among a dozen or so others providing music are Robyn Hitchcock, the subject of Demme’s documentary “Storefront Hitchcock,” and the director’s son, Brooklyn Demme.
“Rachel Getting Married” is overrun with Demme’s friends, and perhaps that contributes to the movie’s bloat. No doubt it was fun assembling so many close associates, but like Kym, Demme doesn’t know when enough is enough for those who aren’t part of the family circle.
Two stars out of four.
Source: Canadian Press