At one time, I considered Anne Hathaway nothing more than another Disney teen star and a staple of family-oriented films. I realized I had seriously misjudged her after witnessing her performance in Havoc, a movie as far removed from the Disney universe as the Earth is to the Moon. Underneath those melting, doe eyes and bright smile lies a keen intelligence and all-encompassing awareness. Now, she breaks out to the next level, delivering an Oscar-caliber performance in Jonathan Demme’s film, Rachel Getting Married.
Recovering addict Kym (Hathaway) is furloughed from rehab for one day to attend her sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. Already in chaos over the wedding preparations, Kym’s presence at home throws an unwelcome wrench into the proceedings. Despite the audience’s sympathy for her obvious suffering, Kym at first appears to be a monumentally self-centered, attention-seeking drama queen holding her family hostage while attempting to wrest the focus from her sister onto herself. We know little at this juncture about her specific problems other than she was recently in a car accident, her tragic “bottom” moment brought on by so many years of drinking and drug use. However, after a gut-twisting share during a 12-step meeting the audience learns the enormity of her grief and regrets. Her actions are a cry for help, acceptance, and forgiveness.
At first, I thought Demme focused overlong on her sister’s wedding as well as the wedding itself, while Kym and her story seemed consigned to the periphery of things. Then I realized that he was merely keeping to the promise of the film’s title. It is indeed about Rachel’s wedding -- and underneath and off to the side of it are all the simmering tensions Kym's reappearance dials up to full boil.
Demme hits the nail on the head in his depiction of recovering addicts capturing their painful experiences and struggles for sobriety without avoiding observing the unattractive behaviors that mark the addict mindset. His unflinching honesty in this area is a quality consistent with a realistic portrait of addiction. Addiction and recovery aren’t pretty -- Demme forces the audience to acknowledge that fact.
The astonishing Hathaway turns everything upside down and inside out in her portrayal of the guilt-ridden Kym. Hathaway reveals her capacity to descend inside deep down inside herself to excavate genuine emotions that embody her character’s suffering and sincere desire to make amends to her family, to make right something she feels can never be made right. She avoids the histrionics a less-experienced young actress might have resorted to had she been cast in this role.
Rachel Getting Married represents one of the finest achievements in ensemble acting by utilizing the talents of Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel, and of course Hathaway and DeWitt. Effortlessly weaving their way through wedding preparations, family dysfunction, despair, and unbridled joy, the actors execute an intricately choreographed dramedy without missing a beat.
Demme’s exclusive use of the hand-held camera to realize intimacy felt self-conscious at times and even a little disorienting. But that minor complaint in no way threatens the artistry of this little jewel of a film.
(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated “R” for language and brief sexuality.)
Review also posted at www.moviebuffs.com.