Families are messy things. Movies about them are often even messier.
“Rachel Getting Married” is no exception. Jonathan Demme’s latest film is as shaky — both visually and metaphorically — as the angry and confused clan it chronicles.
The Rachel of the title is played by relative newcomer Anne Hathaway?)
The film begins as the girls’ father Paul (Anna Deavere Smith) pick Kym up from rehab especially for the big day. It’s clear Kym had a major meltdown: “Hey, didn’t I see you on ‘COPS’?” the cashier at a rest stop asks. We don’t find out right away exactly what happened, but we do see very quickly her ambivalent relationship with her sister. As soon as Kym, a former model, sees Rachel, she compliments her on her figure, but quickly adds, “You look like you’re puking again.”
The next hour and a half features some pretty typical family drama. Rachel thinks Kym is self-centered and always trying to focus attention on herself. Kym thinks Rachel is completely unsympathetic. Rachel thinks their father pays attention only to Kym. Kym thinks Rachel doesn’t fight fair. You get the picture.
These bursts of hurt and anger come in what feel like fake moments that have been too obviously set up by the filmmakers. The fights never seem very convincing.
It’s too bad first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of director Sidney) so often relies on formula because she clearly has some talent. The heavy tone is lightened with some sly humor now and then, and it invariably works. In the middle of a fight over her bridesmaid’s attire, which to Kym’s horror is lilac, Rachel’s friend points out she once wore the dread color on the cover of Seventeen. “Someone paid me to,” Kym retorts. “And I was on horse tranquilizers.”
Any time the film gets any momentum, though, it’s quickly undermined. Both Rachel’s father and Rachel’s fiance Sidney (Connecticut property. It’s a nice way to fit music into the film organically. But it also becomes an easy vehicle for a self-indulgent director. The wedding scene, when it finally comes, seems to go on forever, with nothing really happening beyond an endless parade of dancers and musicians.
You can’t fault the actors. None has the name recognition of Miss Hathaway, but they’re all very good. Miss Hathaway is getting rather a lot of Oscar buzz for her performance. It’s certainly powerful, but one feels she could do even better with better material. Debra Winger has a small but important cameo as her mother, which she pulls off with ease.
Also good is Narcotics Anonymous member. He and Kym quickly hook up, giving them an outlet for their cravings, and then the two are barely seen together again. It’s another missed opportunity in a movie with rather too many of them.
TITLE: “Rachel Getting Married”
RATING: R (language and brief sexuality)
CREDITS: Directed by Jonathan Demme. Written by Jenny Lumet.
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
WEB SITE: sonyclassics.com /rachelgettingmarried
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS