I was so quick to post negatively about the first film I saw in this year's Variety Screening Series that I should have been much quicker to enthuse about Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married." But better late than never.
Jonathan Demme's had a very uneven career as a director, from the excellent and energetic Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense and film adaptation of Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia, on to Married to the Mob and Something Wild (not bad, though others love more than I), continuing to The Silence of the Lambs and the excellent Philadelphia to The Truth About Charlie remake (which I love more than others) to a remake of The Manchurian Candidate (which needed better tighter editing; even scene seemed to last a beat too long making it rather a chore) and now to Rachel Getting Married, which I think might be up there with Philadelphia as his best narrative motion picture.
Much like Philadelphia is and will always be known for the excellent central performance of Tom Hanks, Rachel Getting Married will be known for the excellent central performance of Anne Hathaway. Sadly so, almost, because just as Philadelphia boasts a slew of excellent supporting performances, like Mary Steenburgen's delicious performance as the evil attorney, Hathaway's star turn will likely overshadow the excellence of the cast up and down the line here.
But goodness is Anne Hathaway good! She plays Kym, the sister of the eponymous Rachel, whose wedding weekend it is. We know from the conversation in the car ride up to the wedding in ritzy Stamford CT with her father that there's something a little awry with Kim, which we'll soon enough find out is her drug dependency. All of the other reviews I've read mention that she's on a weekend furlough for the wedding, but this seems to be the kind of thing you pick up from the press kit that isn't so well described in the film itself. There's another secret about Kym that's a little more important and a little better hidden that's revealed slowly and gently, a line of dialogue here and a photo there and a plate in yonder kitchen cabinet. And is it Kym's fault that her mother and father have split up, the mother ephereally and ephemerally played by Debra Winger in a nice supporting turn that (to continue with my comparison) isn't unlike the late-career glimpse of Joanne Woodward as Tom Hanks' mother in Philadelphia. The father's played by Bill Irwin, who is perhaps better known to we New Yorkers for some of his Broadway clowning. He uses every bit of his expressiveness to convey the uncertainties of his own balancing act on the wedding weekend, and Rosemarie DeWitt's Rachel is similarly expert showing sometimes with raised voice but often with her face just what's it like to have to deal with Kym on a weekend that ought to be about her. Both also have to ac with a lot of delicacy, because we're going to look at things they do before we find out Kym's other little secret and ask just how well they fit.
Films like this can sometimes be difficult for me, because I'm not fond of addictive personalities, and I don't enjoy seeing what people can do when they're drugged up or drunk. I'm a little more tolerant of varieties of drugged up because I've seen less of that in my own life, so thank heavens it's drugs here and not drunks which in high school and elsewhere I've had my fill of. Furthermore, there's nothing very glorious about Anne Hathaway, other than that she's absolutely and totally magnetic to watch even as she does and says the darnedest and damnedest things on occasion. And it's just a magnificent performance, definitely an Oscar contender. She's hurt and hurtful, cuddly and hateful and hateable all at the same time.
The centerpiece of the movie might be a rehearsal dinner capped by a toast by Kym. We were told in the post-film Q&A that all of the script (by Jenny Lumet, the daughter of the noted director Sydney Lumet) is in the movie and that 90% of the movie is in the script but a good chunk of the 10% that's improvisation is contained in this long section. Kym's toast is a cringe-worthy moment in the best possible way, because we're not sure where Kym is going or what she's going to say, and it's early enough with enough left unsaid about Kym to this point that what she does say can be looked at a lot of different ways and then maybe in six more when you talk about the movie afterward. It's selfishly gracious, or is it graciously selfish? Later on, with all cards on the table, there's a scene between Debra Winger and Anne Hathaway that's also devastatingly well done.
This isn't a perfect film. The stuff about Kym that's better found in the press notes than the movie is one small reason for that. A bigger one that results in the deduction of half a toad is the very self-indulgent wedding reception. Demme likes his music, so the film is filled with music and musicians (in fact, all the music in the film is sourced, on a radio or there live or such instead of scored), and they're all at the wedding reception. And since they're all there, they must be shown. Even though the dramatic climax of the film has already been reached, and we've had our wedding, and we're hungry for the epilogue. And this just drags on. And on. And on. And on. And on some more.
Perfect, no. But very very good. Often in ways that American films simply aren't good at being good at any more, and at the same time mostly without falling prey to some of the cliches of Amerindie cinema.