<2>A nyone with a Handycam and some software could conjure fancier credits than the bare white-on-black title cards that open Rachel Getting Married. But that’s part of Jonathan Demme’s plan: The director also employs a constantly, sometimes nauseatingly, moving camera, blurred shots, and odd angles in an attempt to project This Is Really Happening vérité. By now, this arduous I’m-not-trying approach actually screams the opposite—come on, even novices don’t shoot at hip level—but scriptwriter Jenny Lumet and a terrific cast credibly transport you into the middle of a family maelstrom anyway.
The family, as most do, has a veneer of cheerful normality masking its damage: Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), the bride, is gorgeous and thrilled to see her sister, at least until Kym brings up Rachel’s bout with bulimia within seconds of saying hello. Their father, Paul (Bill Irwin), is downright giddy but tracks Kym relentlessly, which later puts him in a no-win volley of ego-stroking when one or the other sibling accuses him of never paying attention to her. Paul is now happily married to Carol (Anna Deavere Smith), but the girls’ mother (Debra Winger) and the question of when or if she’ll show up is another cause of anxiety, for reasons not entirely made clear.
Hathaway, who broke out in The Princess Diaries and has largely continued her career with other chipper roles that pair well with her Disney-heroine eyes, is not the film’s only unusual casting choice. In what might be a hot topic within many other families—real or fictional—both Carol and Rachel’s fiance, Sidney (TV on the Radio singer Tunde Adebimpe), are black. Yet no mention is made of it; a reaction from anybody that these relationships are anything but perfectly normal isn’t even implied. It’s an inspired move: Here’s a group of people who are so open-minded, so chill, yet so deeply fucked up. At least on the bride’s side, anyway—Sidney’s family seems like pure joy, with his mother (Carol-Jean Lewis) giving an especially lovely speech about how she prayed for the arrival of Rachel and imagines that the celebration is what heaven must be like.
Jenny Lumet, Sidney Lumet’s daughter, makes a stellar debut, filling her script with dialogue that flows naturally whether the characters are pulling the scabs off old wounds, awkwardly toasting the couple, or making small talk. They mostly do the former, and the resentment that Kym’s presence stirs up is palpable. Then there’s her own instability, which is what makes Hathaway’s performance such a marvel: Her Kym doesn’t have to say a word—though she does, and usually way too many of them for everyone’s comfort—to belie her personal demons. The highs and lows of an addict and depressive immediately register on Hathaway’s face, whether she’s smiling so broadly during the blissful moments that take her out of her head, quietly crumbling at bits of surprising news, such as Rachel’s impending move to Hawaii, or going numb after a violent outburst. Kym’s swings may seem melodramatic, but they’re never inauthentic.
For all its misery, Rachel Getting Married has enough warmth and genuineness to keep you sympathetic to and interested in its characters, even at their most selfish. Demme’s docudrama techniques may not be what pull you into this story, but his timing—for about three-quarters of the film, at least—is: The director knows just how long to linger, fly-on-the-wall style, on a scene to make it feel organic, then cuts away just as it threatens to get boring. Unfortunately, Demme gets indulgent with the film’s late chapters, particularly with the actual wedding and reception, both of which go on way too long and are so soaked with merriment it all begins to feel forced. Worse, the focus nearly completely shifts away from Kym. It may be what Rachel and the family wanted in the first place, but the nuptials aren’t where the meat of this story lies.