“Rachel Getting Married”
At Showcase

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Whether you want to admit it or not, most families have someone who’s just on the outskirts of the family. If this is you, fret not. There’s a new pariah in town.

“Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme’s first narrative feature in almost five years, paints an unsettlingly direct picture of family dysfunction in the days preceding a daughter’s wedding. Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt, TV’s “Mad Men”), as the title would indicate, is getting married; the other daughter, Kym (Anne Hathaway, “Get Smart”), is a recovering addict who’s granted leave from rehab in order to attend the celebration.

The audience is immediately force-fed a hefty serving of Kym’s acerbic brand of interaction. She makes everyone squirm with misery. Upon first seeing Rachel, Kym makes repeated reference to how slim her sister looks, asking her if she’s “puking again.” Every one of Kym’s compliments is backhanded, every comment dripping with passive-aggressive malice.

Within the first hours of her return, Kym has sex with the best man – also a recovering addict – and usurps the position of maid of honor, a right she justifies by invoking the bonds of sisterhood. Whether Kym has ever shown respect for sibling relations is unclear; what is clear, however, is the immaturity and selfishness that provoke Kym’s maid-of-honor outburst.

Kym further asserts her egotism in a disastrous toast at the rehearsal dinner. A long series of heartfelt speeches leads up to Kym’s cataclysmic monologue about her history, emotional meltdowns and recurring relapses. It’s nearly impossible to look directly at the screen, as the child-like Kym pathetically begs for attention. Look away for too long, though, and you’ll miss something that feels as close to genuine as you’re likely to find in theaters.

Anne Hathaway’s performance far exceeds anything she’s done up to this point, though perhaps that isn’t saying much. There is a disdainful and pitiable authenticity to Kym that must be credited to the care and dedication of Hathaway’s performance. In a screaming match with Rachel, Kym likens her reunion with the family to the Salem witch trials — it being an extended interrogation about her goings-on. Though this comparison is hyperbolic, the audience empathizes with Kym and her short-fused frustration. Hathaway brings Kym as close to reality as possible without actually jumping off the screen.

The film’s main shortcomings can be attributed to first-time writer Jenny Lumet’s (daughter of famed director Sidney Lumet) disappointing script. Important points that keep the story moving feel decidedly like narrative devices — constructed and manipulative. Scenes designed to provide further insight into the strained inner-workings of the family fail to coalesce, making a film of fragmented pieces.

In contrast to these narrative pitfalls, an added sense of realism is provided by Demme’s work with the cinematographer Declan Quinn. Quinn, who shot Demme’s most recent documentary, “Jimmy Carter Man from Plains,” helps realize a film that seems to blur the lines between documentary and fiction. Shot on video with jarring camerawork, it’s often hard to remove oneself from the action as the film insists on being real.

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