Brimming with energy, elan and the unpredictability of his “Something Wild,” Jonathan Demme’s triumphant “Rachel Getting Married” may just lay the wedding film to rest, being such a hard act to follow. Amid preparations for a biracial wedding, in comes the bride’s time-bomb of a sister (Anne Hathaway), fresh from a nine-month stay at her umpteenth rehab, ready to open every can of worms in the cupboard. Riding emotional rollercoasters to the ever-changing rhythms of the wonderfully eclectic in-house bands whose music never ceases, Demme’s self-styled stunner should appeal to arthouse auds upon its Oct. 3 release by Sony Classics.
Kym (Hathaway, fragile, angry and superb) does not qualify as a likely candidate for Miss Congeniality. Commanding centerstage, she’s not about to let a little thing like her sister’s wedding take away from the spectacle of her suffering. A succinct, wryly perfect AA meeting makes clear that Kym’s guilt over the death of her little brother, Ethan, has left her incapable of coping with herself, just as others have difficulty coping with her. The entire family carries the scars of Ethan’s death, along with all manner of festering hurts and enduring longings.
Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) resents her sister’s constant emotional drain on their rich, white, liberal New England family, leaving precious few resources for her own needs. In a marvelously funny scene, when Rachel suddenly announces she is pregnant during a bout of mutual sisterly recriminations, Kym inanely cries foul, unable to overcome her anger at being upstaged.
A whole sea of troubles roils beneath the siblings’ superficially polite relationship with their divorced and remarried mother (an incomparable Debra Winger), the tensions more inchoately acted out than specifically spelled out. Meanwhile, their dad (Demme regular Bill Irwin), expansive and all-embracing, cannot leave anything alone, anxiously pushing food and solicitude upon his welcoming guests and his far less receptive daughters.
Doubtless, the black groom and his family could yield similar soap operatics, but the film never ventures far into the other side of the aisle, except for innumerable toasts, hugs and songs as musician/groom Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) launches into a cappella Neil Young after the vows.
The characters’ volatile moodswings are matched by the restlessness of the HD camerawork commandeered by Declan Quinn (“Monsoon Wedding”). Quinn’s camera, few of whose moves were blocked out beforehand, proves ever ready to take off in unexpected directions.
With the passing of Robert Altman, Demme remains the only one of his groundbreaking generation of ’60s/’70s-spawned, open-ended moviemakers consistently making films. Though written by Jenny Lumet (Sidney’s daughter) and owing more, plot-wise, to Noah Baumbach’s “Margot at the Wedding” than to Altman’s “A Wedding,” “Rachel Getting Married” quite consciously inscribes itself with that Altmanesque tradition of go-with-the-flow, quasi-ethnographic American walkabouts.
The family of the bride here recalls the Kennedy-like dysfunctional clan in “Five Easy Pieces,” and like Bob Rafelson, Demme never tells auds what to think about his characters. And if the many disparate people in the frame do not deliver precisely syncopated, overlapping dialogue, they are dazzlingly counterpointed musically, as Mendelssohn-strumming electric guitarists, scantily costumed dancers or Arabic flautists march to the beats of different drums with overarching harmony.
Tech credits are top-notch.