Anne Hathaway is getting a lot of notice for her raw edged work in Rachel Getting Married, and rightfully so. The young actress best known as the goody-two-shoes star of The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted has, in recent years, been making moves to distance herself from the young adult mainstream with a provocative role in Brokeback Mountain and a high profile turn in The Devil Wears Prada. In Rachel Gettting Married she hands in tour-de-force work that marks her first completely adult performance.
Shot cinéma vérité style on a combination of grainy, handheld 35 mm and consumer video cameras the movie begins with recovering addict Kym (Hathaway) leaving rehab to attend the wedding of her older sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). Old wounds are reopened as family Kym tries to readjust to life with an overbearing father (Bill Irwin), absent mother (Debra Winger) and her sister’s upcoming “happy day.”
Director Jonathan Demme has spent most of the last ten years making documentaries and it shows in every frame of Rachel Getting Married. It feels like a doc, from the jiggly camera work to the raw, Dogme style of emotional intensity. The film was shot without rehearsal and it shows, in a good way. Scenes are frequently shot in long, uninterrupted Robert Altman-esque takes and the actor’s reactions often feel spontaneous and that feeling of naturalness deepens the believability of the story. It feels intimate, free-wheeling and unpredictable.
At the center of it all is Hathaway, who, surrounded by a cast comprised of old pros like Debra Winger and Bill Irwin and newcomers like TV On the Radio singer turned actor Tunde Adebimpe, is the emotional core of the film. Her greatest feat here is to play an unlikable, self-centered person and still have the audience feel sympathy for her. It’s an intense, unvarnished performance that reveals the pain that lurks beneath Kym’s goth-like exterior. She’s tough and fragile; someone who is able to live with her past sins, but can’t get over them. It’s an award caliber performance that she has hinted at before but never delivered.
Also very good and award worthy is Debra Winger as Kym’s detached mother Abby. Winger works infrequently, she’s only made four films since Y2K, but her work as the damaged Abby, a woman who cannot come to grips with the wellspring of emotion that exists inside her, is spectacular.
Rachel Getting Married isn’t a perfect movie. It is a rambling film with that suffers from self indulgence from Demme, who pushes the audience’s tolerance for wedding music—no matter how eclectic—to new extremes but its great performances and tough emotional truths more than make up for unnecessary excesses.