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Love song

Jonathan Demme’s new sweet-sounding film gets intimate.

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HATHAWAY: In 'Rachel Getting Married.'
  • HATHAWAY: In 'Rachel Getting Married.'

Everything's always about Kim (Anne Hathaway), even in a movie called “Rachel Getting Married.” When Kim, the title character's sister and an infamously destructive addict fresh out of rehab, returns home to attend the wedding, she can't help but feel the guests are assembled not to honor Rachel but to leer at the family disaster. Obsessed with her own recovery, driven by fear of a relapse, and racked by guilt over the tragic circumstances of her addiction, Kim drops into the high stress and tension of the wedding like a bomb.

One might expect the didactic histrionics of your typical addiction narrative laced with the treacly minefield of some holiday movie, but veteran director Jonathan Demme handles Kim and her family with the sensitivity of a counselor and the patience of a sibling. Quirk, that convenient shorthand of dysfunction employed by Sundance favorites like “Little Miss Sunshine,” is here overwhelmed by the joyous strangeness of Kim's diverse relations, as well as the shape and texture of their problems. Instead, all are so very different that differences can't be the issue. These wounds are deeper, the strife more concrete.

Thrown into a busy household on the day before the wedding, the audience has an analogue in the groom's quiet younger brother, an Army specialist home from Iraq and new to this vibrant world, an almost non-character who only figures in the story when his own lens — a consumer-grade camera that is always by his side — periodically captures the action. His shaky point-of-view resembles the work of the cinematographer in all but image quality. We are meant to feel as instantly immersed in this strange house and this discomforting drama as he himself, and because of expert handheld camerawork that bobs and weaves and glides through the often overpopulated goings-on, we experience all the discomfort of an actual guest, only we can never quietly excuse ourselves from the room.

Everyone in Kim's family seems involved with the music business in some capacity, and the wedding rehearsals and celebrations reflect that. Despite taking a rigid, stripped-down approach to filmmaking that recalls the Dogme 95 pictures of Lars von Trier, Demme comes up with a profoundly rhythmic and sweet-sounding movie. Music drips from the walls of the house. Around every corner, in the hallways and on the stairwells, someone plucks away at an instrument. In the end, the spontaneity of performance lends the movie an almost holy release. The healing power of music and celebration proves in no way discordant with the emotional pitch of Kim and her family, but is instead impervious to it.

Demme has created a special film, one that offers no easy resolution but understands the balm of the unconditional. This family he shows us, so very different from any we've seen on film, remains familiar in the truest sense of the word and testifies to one important and binding truth. Love can overcome anything, even us.

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