Rachel Getting Married, the latest offering by director Jonathan Demme, is being acclaimed by many critics as one of Demme's best films to date. The film is centered around the days leading up to Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding and a visit from her eternally rehabbing sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) whose propensity for narcissism and cold snark causes problems for Rachel's wedding. Demme is an accomplished filmmaker who carefully strays from cliched family melodrama and the performance from the normally Disney-ready Hathaway is a refreshing turn for critics who may have been ready to dismiss her as just another Hollywood princess. Considering the overwhelmingly positive reviews, this may not be a film that you would want to skip out on this weekend. The collected reviews after the jump.Salon:
Maybe the characters Demme is showing us are in some ways too real. There were stretches of "Rachel Getting Married" that made me feel restless and annoyed, itching to get away from the aggressive, overgrown neuroses of these characters: A little of that goes a long way in the movies, and a filmmaker doesn't need to fetishize characters' rampant self-absorption to get the point across. But just when someone says or does something that makes you want to shout at the screen, Demme pulls back and reminds us — by focusing on a particular face, or by showing us a character's awkward body language — that these are, quite simply, people in pain. Hathaway, in particular, with those wary eyes and lips that always look on the verge of quivering, brings much of that pain to the surface: This isn't a character you want to hug — she's got too many angles — but Demme feels so deeply for her that he makes us feel for her, too.
I've never been much of an Anne Hathaway fan. She always seemed, to borrow a phrase some brilliant blogger once used about Gwyneth Paltrow, to be "sprinkling herself with fairy dust." But Hathaway transcends her usual complacency in this role and resists the temptation of using Kym's (and her own) wounded-bird appeal to let the character off the hook. Bill Irwin, the great stage clown who's a Demme regular, is marvelously expressive as the girls' overanxious father. And when the luminous Debra Winger first appears onscreen as their withholding mother, you want to grab her and say (on your own behalf as well as her daughters'): Where have you been all these years?
The themes of dependency and recovery that Kym brings home in her overnight bag are familiar, even banal. Every unhappy family may be unique, but every addict is fundamentally the same, and if “Rachel Getting Married” had surrendered its story completely to Kym, it would have risked becoming as drab and familiar as a made-for-television 12-step homily. But Mr. Demme protects the film against such an unsatisfying fate. He is certainly sympathetic to Kym, even as he and Ms. Hathaway conspire to show her at her appalling worst. But he has never been one to restrict his sympathies, and the wonderful thing about “Rachel Getting Married” is how expansive it seems, in spite of the limits of its scope and the modesty of its ambitions. It’s a small movie, and in some ways a very sad one, but it has an undeniable and authentic vitality, an exuberance of spirit, that feels welcome and rare.
"Rachel Getting Married" is welcome for any number of reasons. It's a gratifying return to his independent film roots for Oscar-winning director Dem- me, a powerful screenwriting debut for Jenny Lumet, a herculean job of hand-held cinematography by Declan Quinn and a career-changing performance by Anne Hathaway, of all people, as an ultra-troubled young woman set loose from rehab for her sister's wedding.
Anyone expecting the demure, doe-eyed Hathaway of "The Princess Diaries" or "The Devil Wears Prada" is in for a shock. Kym is a major pain in the ass, and Hathaway's raw, spiky performance makes no attempt to ingratiate. Yet she makes Kym's inner torment so palpable you can't help but feel for her, however insufferable she may be. It's a terrific performance, and DeWitt matches her step for step: you can feel a lifetime of tangled sisterly feelings in every charged moment between them.
Rachel Getting Married sounds like a joyless dirge, but it's actually far from it, and a lot of that is owed to the way Demme harnesses the genuine love and good feeling that buoys the occasion. If he ever retires from directing, he could have a great side business as a wedding planner: The rehearsal dinner, the ceremony, and the reception are brimming with sweet multi-culti touches and great music, including performances by the likes of Robyn Hitchcock and TV On The Radio's Tunde Adebimpe. (The cutting of the cake, for one, may be the most moving moment in the whole movie.) With an easy, freeflowing style—owing partially to the Dogme-style approach that has led some to compare the film to The Celebration—Demme captures the group dynamic of the wedding party, with its seismic shifts in mood from celebratory to melancholy and back again.
Up to my eyeballs in draggy, shapeless amateur junk, I am genuinely thrilled to welcome a film this colorful, artistically realized and wonderfully alive. Steeped in the tradition of sound narrative form yet scrappy and unpredictable, acted and written with enormous style but with front and back doors open to experiment and surprise, it’s a film that challenges you to keep a jogger’s pace to keep up with it, then leaves you breathless. With three more months to go, Rachel Getting Married is already high on my 10-best list for 2008.
This melting-pot wedding creates a frisson of its own; it's a vision of a new world. I do wish that Demme hadn't let the wedding music, by Robyn Hitchcock, Sister Carol East, and a few others, take over the last act. This much healing-by-'80s-hipster-taste is too much. But Rachel Getting Married is still a triumph — Demme's finest work since The Silence of the Lambs, and a movie that tingles with life.
Shot through with smart humor, "Rachel" outlaws cliche. Sydney's good-looking best man, Kieran (Mather Zickel), whom Kym has previously spotted at a 12-step meeting for struggling addicts, materializes at the wedding like her perfect romantic partner. In a humorously unexpected twist, Kym immediately beds him in the attic and ignores him for the rest of the film. A whole romantic subplot is nipped in the bud, leaving the screenplay room to open family wounds and explore less predictable territory.
The characters' volatile moodswings are matched by the restlessness of the HD camerawork commandeered by Declan Quinn ("Monsoon Wedding"). Quinn's camera, few of whose moves were blocked out beforehand, proves ever ready to take off in unexpected directions.
Hathaway's performance as the brittle Kym has been trumpeted as a potential Oscar turn for her, demonstrating her dark side after her roles playing princesses. But there's more than one award-worthy performance here. As the titular Rachel, DeWitt adroitly plays a sympathetic figure who still manages to be hard to like. And as the aloof Abby, the MIA Debra Winger returns to the screen with a small but powerful performance that implies a lot of repressed rage and regret.
'Rachel Getting Married' opens today in limited release.