Rachel Getting Married is a magical wallow in excess, a too-happy, too-sad, too-indulgent plunge into an over-planned wedding. Jonathan Demme's gorgeously messy movie is shot and acted like real life -- real life that's over the top in its emotions, its family strife, its blend of awkward farce and painful drama.
The film is earning Oscar buzz for Anne Hathaway, whose winsomeness all but disappears behind a fog of cigarette smoke. As Kym, the pale, rail-thin bull in the china shop of her sister's big day, Hathaway ditches any vestige of her Princess Diaries past by playing a character so self-centered, self-destructive and recognizable that she'll have you seeing your family's black sheep in every "Look at me" moment.
Kym is fresh out of rehab, home for the wedding of her older sister (the luminous Rosemarie DeWitt of TV's Mad Men). The big house is overrun with guests, a veritable United Nations of friends, family (it's an inter-racial marriage) and musicians. The music in the film is organic to the story. Real musicians jam, warm up and underscore a long weekend of rehearsals, meals and struggles.
Most of that struggle is about Kym. We, like her family, see a tragedy never forgotten and an accident waiting to happen. Her dad (Bill Irwin) dotes. The bride and other bridesmaids veer from concern to outright loathing.
Kym, forced to attend daily 12-step meetings, is a prattling, confessing, wise-cracking ball of nerves.
"Everyone in the house is looking at me like I'm a sociopath," she blurts out in her nasal whine. "I am Shiva the Destroyer, your harbinger of doom!"
It's Rachel who's getting married, but Kym grabs the spotlight. She grabs the best man (Mather Zickel), too. About the only thing that's left is for her long-absent mom to show up. Debra Winger gives a compact, electric performance that tells us where the self-involved Kym came from when she shows up, puts on her fake smile and keeps her emotional distance from two daughters who need her.
Demme fills the frame with people and keeps the camera hand-held and moving. Awkward toasts at the rehearsal dinner (which includes music and stand-up comedy), a two-hanky ceremony and lots of post-nuptials dancing give the film the feeling of a beautifully shot wedding memento, complete with a father/son-in-law dishwasher loading contest, New Agey audience participation and a lovely a cappella song by the groom (Tunde Adebimpe of the Jump Tomorrow).
And Hathaway? She doesn't know how to smoke a cigarette. But maybe Kym is new to the weed, too. It's a droll performance, cluttered but unaffected and unfiltered. With this star turn, going toe to toe with DeWitt and Winger, the doe-eyed starlet steps out as an actress. Playing an emotional wreck desperate for the spotlight, Hathaway emphatically proves she's ready for it.