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Camera, look at me: Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married.

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Empathy?

By Laura Leon

Rachel Getting Married

Directed by Jonathan Demme

At a big old house in Connecticut—the kind of abode where shabby-chic furnishings and multiethnic guests spell out, boldly, that this is a place where secrets are shared, where prejudice is unknown, and where money just isn’t an issue—a wedding party is in place. Throngs of guests, most of whom seem incapable of putting down their musical instruments, mill around, patiently awaiting the big moment when Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt), garbed in traditional Indian bridal finery, takes her vows with her African-American fiancé Sidney. Everybody is pleased as punch—everybody, that is, except the bride’s sister Kym (Anne Hathaway), a recovering addict who’s out of rehab just in time to find she’s been dumped as maid of honor for the bride’s more reliable friend Emma.

As anybody who’s grown up in a large family knows, this is the stuff that family memories are made of: celebrations tinged with regret and long-simmering resentments. Just one word can send an entire generation back to the day when everything changed. Fault lines, carefully avoided for years, crack open anew, and beware the unsuspecting relative who falls into their trap. The entire fate of the event, in this case Rachel’s wedding, depends on everybody more or less avoiding the whys and hows of Kym’s past behavior. This lack of focus, of course, drives her nuts. One of the best things about Rachel Getting Married is the way it reveals how sisters, even in adulthood, vie for preeminence. Kym drags her rehab jargon into the rehearsal dinner, which heretofore had been a veritable love fest of Sidney’s and Rachel’s friends talking about how utterly great the bridal couple is. Rachel resents this and every moment their father Paul (Bill Irwin) spends worrying about Kym’s feelings. Lurking in the background is a secret that the audience knows, once spilled, will reveal a lot about what’s rotting at this family’s core. Almost as mysterious is the utter noninvolvement of Rachel and Kym’s mother Abby (Debra Winger).

Rachel Getting Married is a rambling, often incoherent affair. Too often, director Jonathan Demme lets his cameras linger ad nauseum over bridal toasts, or pan self-approvingly over the multiethnicity of the wedding guests. The overt “Hey, check out how open-minded we are!” approach had me flummoxed—is this supposed to prove how wonderful Rachel’s family is? How universal the themes of love and family strife are? Or is it just an all-out-coolness thing with the director crowing about just how many blacks (hey, isn’t that Fab Five Freddy, and look, it’s Sister Carol!) and Asians he knows. Like Kym, I just wished that they’d quit it with the zithers and lutes once in a while. As if the rehearsal party wasn’t long enough, the reception drags on forever, seemingly to allow us to sample a great many musical and dance styles, and to again muse about the coolness of Sydney and Rachel and their kith and kin. Enough already.

Far too recessed in the brief smidgeons of time between such celebratory excess are the meaty moments in which Kym and Rachel face off about what the former’s addictions have robbed from the latter’s formative years. Even better are the nanoseconds in which Winger, resplendent and earthy and so very refreshing, avoids the questions her daughters so want answered. The interplay between these three women, and to some extent Paul, is tantalizingly, painfully real, and one can’t help but wonder how much better of a movie Rachel Getting Married could have been had Demme focused on these characters’ respective humanity, their shared history and splintered present, rather than making like an amateur videographer at some cheapskate cousin’s nuptials.

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