Facile comparisons to Margot at the Wedding may inevitably follow Rachel Getting Married, yet unlike Noah Baumbach’s aggressively unpleasant portrait of sibling dysfunction, Jonathan Demme’s tale of a junkie who exits rehab to attend the wedding of her older sister is – despite a sometimes grating, troubled protagonist – big-hearted, generous and hopeful. After nine months in an addiction clinic, Kim (Anne Hathaway) arrives at her remarried father’s (Bill Irwin) home for the nuptials of Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), thereby dredging up – in part because of her mere presence, in part because she’s a narcissist whose dad encourages the belief that the world revolves around her – barely scabbed wounds, the most raw being Kim’s accidental DUI killing of her young brother. Aside from an early shot through the house’s upstairs hallways during which one can almost hear the cameraman’s footsteps, Demme’s complex, long take-favoring handheld cinematography is marvelously intimate and attuned to its subject’s chaotic emotions, never underlining too heavily or sentimentalizing too sharply. His script, by Jenny Lumet, is similarly understated yet complex, capturing the way in which weddings, as momentous events of highly charged emotion, can serve as both revitalizing reunions as well as potential venues for tense confrontation.
Kim’s self-centered petulance and bitterness is often exasperating. But it’s nonetheless also an authentic manifestation of her deep need, as well as an instinctive self-defense mechanism designed to mask irresolvable guilt and misery over her crime. Like most of Demme’s film, Hathaway’s fierce, soulful performance exhibits no interest in clichéd, reductive stereotyping, instead doggedly casting Kim – similar to the treatment given Irwin’s over-protective father, Debra Winger’s loving-to-a-point mother, and DeWitt’s resentful Rachel – as a recognizably screwed-up, multifaceted human being. Rachel Getting Married’s early revelation that Rachel’s husband is African-American proves refreshingly nonchalant and unremarked-upon, though in the couple’s never-explained desire for an Indian-themed ceremony (despite there being not one Indian in sight), Demme goes a bit overboard trying to casually depict post-racial multiculturalism. Still, if that minor point, as well as gratuitous cameos by Demme mentor Roger Corman and friend Robyn Hitchcock during the slightly overcooked finale, puncture the otherwise engrossingly real, lived-in atmosphere, they do so only fleetingly, mere minor stumbles in a superbly wrought family drama that, more than most, genuinely understands and tenderly expresses how messy, complicated, troubled and compassionate familial relationships can be.