(CLICK IMAGE FOR LARGER VERSION)
Kym (Anne Hathaway), the kohl-eyed addict at the center of Rachel Getting Married, is a mess, and not a movie mess. Released from rehab just in time for her big sister's wedding, she arrives at the family's house in rural Connecticut to find preparations in full, chaotic swing. As Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) struggles with frantic last-minute fittings and her father (Bill Irwin) whirls anxiously from room to room, you can't help but wonder if she's traded one madhouse for another.
The movie, written by Jenny Lumet and directed by Jonathan Demme, reveals the history and the extent of Kym's drug problems gradually. At first, she seems like a standard-issue movie malcontent, cracking wise like a sardonic teenager and bristling at her father's attempts to keep an eye on her. "It's like the fucking Salem witch trials around here," she exclaims. But as the family's dynamics unfold, it becomes clear that Kym's addiction is long-standing, and that its consequences have been tragic.
There's a casual mastery to the way the movie's relationships develop. Demme fills the family's house to overflowing with weekend guests, many of them nonprofessional actors, including TV on the Radio singer Tunde Adebimpe as Rachel's husband-to-be. In long stretches of banquet toasts and testimonials, Demme gives dozens of them the chance to distinguish themselves from the pack. When the revelers pour out on the dance floor en masse, there's someone you recognize in every shot, and not just a gaggle of faceless extras.
Demme's favorite trick (and perhaps Lumet's as well, although many of the movie's best moments feel too loose to be scripted) is to tag these shaggy-dog sequences with a sharp turn in the direction of plot. The toast sequence climaxes with Kym's acrid and overlong feint at a public apology for her drug-related missteps, whose brittle egoism is thrown into stark relief by the generous outpourings that precede it. An impromptu dishwasher-loading contest between the groom and his future father-in-law grows into a raucous showdown, which dissipates abruptly when a family skeleton comes out of the kitchen cabinet.
Rachel Getting Married owes an obvious debt to Robert Altman's ensemble pieces, but Demme's spirit is fundamentally celebratory. He follows the wedding vows with a string of musical performances whose diversity is almost comical: psychedelic rocker Robyn Hitchcock and reggae queen Sister Carol East. The fact that the groom is a musician makes the abundance of talent mildly credible, but it's hard to escape the feeling that the breadth of styles is primarily intended to demonstrate what a groovy, open-minded guy Demme is. The wedding guests range from jazz composers to a soldier on leave, but some of them barely exist beyond their external signifiers. They're merely a patchwork backdrop to the ongoing psychodrama.
But if Demme is at pains to demonstrate his liberal cred, the movie's central story moves forward without apparent strain. The central performances, particularly Hathaway's and Irwin's, seem almost effortless. Hathaway's departure from the world of light comedy has garnered plenty of attention, and rightly so, but Irwin's turn is no less impressive. Best known as a physical comedian (or as Sesame Street's Mr. Noodle), Irwin nails the mannerisms of a genial New England patriarch, from the goofy grammar — he offers guests "hot dogs and hunga-bungas" — to the ineffectual kindliness. Debra Winger makes a brief but welcome appearance as his ex-wife, making the three years since her last appearance on screen seem like a minor crime.
Rachel Getting Married could probably have been improved with greater editing-room discipline. Its last half-hour should be half as long, if not a third. But those who succumb will find its raggedness part of its charm. Good weddings always seem to go on forever, and this one is no exception.
Rachel Getting Married | Directed by Jonathan Demme | A Sony Pictures Classics release