REVIEW: ‘Rachel’ is smart, if a little precious

Nov 12, 2008 at 6:00 am

(Starring Anne Hathaway, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe and Anna Deavere Smith. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Rated R; 1:51. LEO Report Card: B+

Director Jonathan Demme may never top 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs,” that rare serial killer film with flair, fear and real psychological depth. The rest of his career has been spotty, from solid major-league dramas (“Philadelphia”) to liberal-minded documentaries and forgettable indie fare. It’s been the interplay between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling that’s defined his career.

“Rachel Getting Married” has its own monster. This time, it’s Kym (played with elemental force by Anne Hathaway), a twenty-something just released from rehab so that she can attend the wedding of her sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt).  Kym is understandably uncomfortable with her homecoming; her quiet, liberal-minded family and their Connecticut home have been overrun with an icy extended family and the groom’s numerous bohemian musician buddies. The film hints at a traumatic past — drug abuse, thievery and some sort of fatal accident — that makes her keep acting out. It could be sleeping with the best man, making inappropriate public confessions or throwing horrific temper tantrums. However her anger and insecurity manifest, they are always in danger of utterly destroying this happy occasion.

It’s easy to hate Kym. She creates more drama than a Shakespeare troupe. But the script, by Jenny Lumet, smartly complicates your view of Kym just as she’s about to do something beyond redemption. Kym may have occasionally monstrous actions, but she is not a monster. She’s struggling to leave behind the kind of history that tends to follow you.

Her family is well-meaning but unequipped to handle Kym. Rachel wants to make her happy, but is terrified of her. Her father (Bill Irwin) is wracked with guilt for not having better managed Kym’s problems and frequently gives her all the attention she needs, even if it means ignoring the well-adjusted and loving Rachel. Kym is resented by much of the family, even if they’re doing their best to pretend otherwise.

The strength of the film is not its innovation or human scope. Suburban bourgeois suffering is a well-traveled road; the movie’s plot isn’t much different from “Celebration,” “The Ice Storm” or even “American Beauty.” And at a certain point, it does get tiresome to see the affluent, educated artistic class rehashing their traumatic childhoods. As tough as their family life has been, they’re still in a loving, positive environment. It could be much, much worse.

The movie is both smart and fiery. Hathaway is absolutely explosive as Kym. It’s hard to imagine that an actress that’s made such a successful career with light, scatterbrained movies could come through with such a varied, magnetic performance. And the interactions between the family members are every bit as gripping as those between Lecter and Starling in “Lambs.” Expressing his character’s psychology visually is Demme’s greatest strength.