Weddings have been the subject of literally hundreds of movies. After all, they create the kind of emotional wallop that the best films thrive on.
Rachel Getting Married, the new wedding dramedy from Oscar winner Jonathan Demme, marks a gratifying return to the director's independent-film roots. And for actress Anne Hathaway, of all people, it's a career-changing performance.
Hathaway, best known for movies like The Princess Diaries, plays Kym, an ultratroubled young woman released from rehab for her sister's wedding. Even though Kym has trouble recognizing where her own needs end and other people's boundaries begin, she gets to make a toast at the rehearsal dinner.
The result is both empathetic and outrageous: "Hello," she says; "I'm Shiva the Destroyer and your harbinger of doom for the evening. ... I haven't seen most of you since my latest stretch in the big house. But you all look fabulous."
Everyone's been to weddings like the one in this picture — weddings where unresolved issues ignite in front of your eyes — and screenwriter Jenny Lumet captures the unmistakable texture of this kind of reality. The film's characters become people we care about, people we hope have the ability to navigate the shoals of family entanglements.
And Rachel Getting Married dares to mix the bitter with the sweet; it understands that life-altering situations like weddings bring out the worst in human behavior, along with the finest.
All kinds of tunes — most memorably an a cappella version of Neil Young's "Unknown Legend" — run through this film like a river, flooding it with joy at the moments it needs it most. If Kym's toast jolts us with its surprising bitterness, that song, sung by the groom as part of the wedding ceremony, lifts us up with its unexpected affirmation.
Because it's willing to take those kinds of chances, Rachel Getting Married could have gone off the rails in any number of ways. It doesn't, because Demme's firm but unobtrusive hand gives us the kind of emotionally honest moments that big-studio money can't buy.