The defection of scrappy young indie turk Demme to the Hollywood mainstream disappointed many: it’s a long downhill march from the wise and unpredictable ‘Something Wild’ to the cautious tedium of ‘Philadelphia’. But after a half-decade honing his skills as a documentarian, the director is back where he belongs with a freewheeling, fiercely independent comedy drama.
Anne Hathaway is smartly cast as Kym, the straight-talking black sheep on furlough from rehab to attend her sister’s wedding. The first half is structured as a series of blazing rows, as one by one the family members lose their patience and lash out at the thoughtless Kym. The second half – the big day itself – shows these old wounds healing, as forgiveness overcomes rancour.
Jenny Lumet’s script is well constructed and unflinching in its depiction of family trauma, but it’s Demme’s approach that sets the film apart. Improvising much of the dialogue and all the camera moves, he creates a loose, strikingly intimate sense of captured reality that forces the audience into the action. Even the music is exclusively diegetic, with old lags like Robyn Hitchcock and Sister Carol East providing a wildly diverse soundtrack to the celebrations.
‘Rachel Getting Married’ is not for everyone: it’s long, unfocused and as middle class as an episode of ‘My Family’. But those who surrender to Demme’s disarming, almost participatory technique will find themselves overwhelmed, exhilarated and inspired by the eternal possibilities of cinema.