You might assume, from the title, that Rachel Getting Married is about Rachel, the bride-to-be. And it is, eventually. But like all movie weddings, Rachel's doesn't go by without a hitch. On the contrary, there are shouting matches, an exchange of blows, even a car crash. And Rachel has trouble holding center stage as the stage crumbles around her. For this is one of those weddings that expose a family's foundation cracks - cracks that, if left unattended, could bring the whole sorry house down. Directed by Jonathan Demme in a jittery hand-held style that would get the average wedding videographer fired (is anybody really this bad with a video camera anymore?), Rachel Getting Married is a psychodrama from the rehearsal dinner to the wedding reception. And in both senses of the phrase, it's as enjoyable as hell.
Her hair seemingly lopped off with a dull pair of scissors, Anne Hathaway plays Kym, Rachel's sister, who's been let out of rehab just in time to spoil the ceremony. And if you only know Hathaway from such movies as Becoming Jane and The Devil Wears Prada, hold on to your hat, because Kym can suck the air out of a room with her caustic wit, a cigarette wedged between her fingers like a tiny shotgun. Kym has been an addict for as long as she can remember, which, being an addict, isn't that long. And she appears to have caused a family tragedy for which no one should ever have to bear full responsibility. As a conversational topic, you might call it the pink elephant in the corner except for the fact that it isn't in the corner, it's right out there where everybody can see it. Now add one of the worst cases of sibling rivalry since Cain and Abel.
I'm exaggerating, but the script, by Jenny Lumet, does keep pounding away on the family's dysfunctionality while leaving at least a little room for last-minute wedding preparations. Bill Irwin, doing his nice-guy act, plays the patriarch, a well-meaning guy who always has the perfect thing to say in group settings. And Debra Winger, looking tired and nervous at the same time, plays the mother, now divorced from her husband and, if you look closely, her daughters as well. Was she always like that, or did she become that way, like the chunk of ice played by Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People? Hard to say, but with a disabling mother and an enabling father, Kym may not have had a chance. And the movie poses the question of how you get to the bottom of something while also trying to get out from underneath it.
But back to Rachel. It is her wedding, after all, a days-long house party given over to music from all over the world, both the bride's father and the groom being involved in the music business. Paradoxically, all the commotion nudges Rachel even farther out of the limelight. But Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays her, does a marvelous job of holding our attention just the right amount, so that by the end we're ready to hand the movie over to her. It's a no-fancy-stuff performance, and DeWitt has some of Helen Hunt's radiant clarity. Still, it's Hathaway's movie to do whatever she wants with, and she doesn't give it up without a fight. I love the way Hathaway's Kym can stick the knife in even while paying a compliment. "You look great," she tells her sister when she first gets a good look at her, "I would swear to God you're puking again."