Rachel Getting Married is more than just Anne Hathaway's incredible performance. This point must be made perfectly clear, or a great disservice will be done to this film. Director Jonathan Demme, working from a terrific script from legendary director Sidney's daughter Jenny Lumet, has constructed a profound, devastating picture, one of the year's best.
Hathaway plays Kym, a former drug addict now in rehab, who goes to her father's house for the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). It's not just a reunion when Kym shows up, though. It's a reopening of old wounds, and the restirring of familial tensions. Their parents are divorced, but will both be in attendance. Rachel doesn't choose her sister initially to be her maid of honor, for reasons which seem obvious to everyone but Kym. And their little brother Ethan can't be there for any of it, due to the family tragedy Kym was directly responsible for, which has altered the course of all their lives.
Alternately funny and aggravating and deeply painful, Lumet's script feels like a cross between Edward Albee and A.R. Gurney. You don't find out a lot of the reasons why this family is so fractured until halfway though, but once things are revealed it coalesces in brilliant clarity. Characters motivations are hard to accept at times, but seem to fit their natures, and jealousies long repressed flood out in raging torrents leading up to the nuptials. It's a sharp, decisive script, without an extraneous scene or line of dialogue.
Anne Hathaway does easily her finest work, with her most complex character, in a role that should very well change her career. The fact that she's seen as being a burgeoning Hollywood star famed for fluff comedies and teen movies (Get Smart, The Princess Diaries) makes her taking on this role commendable in itself. The way she pulls it off though is nothing short of astounding. Kym is selfish, irritating, out of control, self loathing, and predominantly just plain defeated - by life, by drugs, and by herself. She battles with Rachel, with her flighty mother (a fine if underused Debra Winger), her overbearingly protective father (the fantastic Bill Irwin), and the majority of the gathering in general. She's terribly hard on herself, and no one else much gives her a break either. It's an enormously weighty role which Hathaway fully embodies. So complete is her transformation into this character that you can barely recognize the comic Hathaway of The Devil Wears Prada type roles. It is extraordinary.
But as I said it would be unfortunate if this is all anyone knows about Rachel Getting Married. Demme makes his best film since Silence of the Lambs, a stretch of seventeen long years where it seemed he'd lost his touch. After earlier terrific work on Melvin and Howard, Married to the Mob, Silence, and Philadelphia, he all but went belly up on cinematic trash like The Truth About Charlie and The Manchurian Candidate. It's a grand return to form on display here, and one can only hope this ushers in a renaissance of sorts for the Oscar winner.
Not to be overshadowed by the star's turn, the supporting cast comes up big across the board, led by Rosemarie Dewitt's phenomenal job as the bride-to-be. Much like how Rachel's wedding gets repeatedly shoved aside in favor of sister Kym's problems, DeWitt doesn't quite get the proper recognition for her award worthy performance. So good as Don Draper's woman on the side in season one of Mad Men, DeWitt is every bit as strong here, pushing and struggling and fighting to keep the wedding her moment, but still being a loving, supportive sister, no matter what Kym gets herself into. Without this strong a Rachel in Rachel Getting Married, Hathaway would be playing tennis with a brick wall. It's this dynamic that drives the film, and makes it the wonder that it is.
Perhaps it tilts toward the overwrought at times, and a few of the moments meant to hearken back to the sad days of the family's past are a bit heavy handed, and a few of the music laden scenes go on much too long, but these are minor pulls in a magnificent tapestry. There's a lot to be said about family bonds and love here, but more about grief and forgiveness. Everything doesn't work out perfectly - it's a fine reflection of life - but you can take a great deal away from the story of this wedding, and you will be very glad for the experience.
The Goatius Grade = 4.5, and I'm rounding up for Epinions purposes
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