"Where is the musicians that got the taste?/Where is the supply that's going to last three days ... I understand the culture's of a different kind/But here world 'celebration' just doesn't come to mind."
— Gogol Bordello, "American Wedding"
Eugene Hutz, singer and songwriter for the New York-based "gypsy punk" band Gogol Bordello, may scoff at American weddings, but he would probably be quite pleased with the Connecticut-set affair that dominates Rachel Getting Married.
This quasi-low-budget, quasi-indie film from director Jonathan Demme stars Anne Hathaway as Kym, a drug addict who leaves a long rehab stint to return to her family home for the wedding of her older sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). It has been positioned, in Hollywood shorthand, as the "Anne Hathaway Junkie Movie" — the familiar attempt by a pretty young actress to go dark and gritty in pursuit of award-season hardware.
Happily, Rachel Getting Married is so much more than that. Rather than Hathaway's troubled Kym dominating the movie, she becomes merely a key part of it, as various family dramas play out against the backdrop of an enormous, engaging wedding celebration. In this way, Rachel Getting Married evokes Mira Nair's intoxicating Monsoon Wedding, where weighty family melodrama was eventually overcome by pure, joyous spectacle.
Once you get past the casual, unexplained opulence of the setting (which comes across like a Bon Appetit spread gone bohemian), the wedding weekend celebration in Rachel Getting Married emerges as something of an Obama-era liberal utopia — a vibrant, musical, interracial, multicultural ideal.
Rachel's fiancé, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe of the Brooklyn rock band TV on the Radio), is a striking presence — a big, barrel-chested, gentle giant with Ray Charles specs and Dizzy Gillespie jowls. He's a musician, and as Sidney and Rachel's family and friends come together, a spirit of cultural and musical ecumenicalism overtakes the film: A pre-wedding celebration featuring a rock band, comic, soul singer, jazz sax player, and Eastern religious chant presaging an all-night reception that mixes Afropop, reggae, hip-hop, punk, and gypsy music.
Director Demme is a major name not known for having a definitive personal style. His filmography,mixes glossy prestige projects (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, The Manchurian Candidate) with intimate documentaries and performance pieces (Swimming to Cambodia, Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains). His most memorable directing may have come in a couple of terrific concert films, Stop Making Sense (with the Talking Heads) and the underrated Neil Young: Heart of Gold. In those films, Demme's camera was hypnotic in capturing live performance. There's some of that here, both in the wedding celebration and the raw, John Cassavetes-like family interactions.
Demme uses a handheld camera to dart around intimate moments, capturing furtive reaction shots. He stages Kym's tumultuous homecoming as an oscillating series of intense interactions and quiet retreats. The documentary-like feel of the film is enhanced by the lack of a traditional score. Instead, unnamed wedding musicians, forever practicing on the lawn or on the porch, provide a score that emanates entirely from within the on-screen world.
As Kym, Hathaway — in a chopped bob and dark eyeliner — is superb, conveying the character's despair without unduly dominating the film. And Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet parcel out the family backstory, with the extent of Kym's past behavior and the mark it's left on the family gradually revealed. But, to its credit, Rachel Getting Married is as committed to embracing joy as it is to conveying a family's barely effable pain. And it makes this clear with a simple, lingering, magical final shot.
Rachel Getting Married
Opening Friday, October 24th
Studio on the Square