8/10
Hathaway Excels in a Fierce If Overlong Drama About Coming Home and Facing Demons
12 October 2008
Sitting through a movie about sibling rivalry at a wedding, especially one starring the doe-eyed and normally facile Anne Hathaway, sounds like a potentially painful way to spend an evening. However, as directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Jenny Lumet (Sidney's daughter), this 2008 drama is not a lightweight star vehicle à la Julia Roberts circa 1997 but a darkly realistic look at the dysfunction within a family thrown into disarray. Using an almost cinéma vérité style, Demme explores how a wedding reopens old wounds within a family in a naturalistic way made all the more palpable by the emotional acuity in Lumet's screenplay.

The focus is on Kym, a chain-smoking former model who has spent the last several months in rehab. As a substance abuser whose only armor is cutting sarcasm, she is absurdly hopeful that her sister Rachel's wedding will be a harbinger for unconditional love from her upscale Connecticut family. Therein lies the problem as her narcissism provides the catalyst for long-simmering tensions that uncork during the preparations for a lavish, Indian-themed wedding weekend (the movie's working title was "Dancing with Shiva"). It soon becomes clear that Kym's link to a past tragedy is at the core of the unpredictable dynamics that force confrontations and regrettable actions among the four principal family members. Rachel appears to be Kym's sensible opposite, but their alternately close and contentious relationship shows how they have not full recovered from past resentments. Their remarried father Paul is a bundle of loving support to the point of unctuous for both his girls, while their absentee mother Abby is the exact opposite - guarded and emotionally isolated until she is forced to face both her accountability and anger in one shocking moment.

Anne Hathaway is nothing short of a revelation as Kym. Instead of playing the role against the grain of her screen persona, she really shows what would happen if one of her previous characters – say, Andy Sachs in "The Devil Wears Prada" - went another route entirely. The actress' studiousness and persistence are still very much in evidence, but the story allows her to use these traits under the guise of a self-destructive, often unlikable addict who gains attention through her outrageous self-absorption. As the put-upon title character, Rosemarie DeWitt realistically shows Rachel's sense of pain and resentment as the attention veers to Kym during plans for the most important day of her life. Bill Irwin is winning as the unapologetically grateful Paul, but it's really Debra Winger who steals her all-too-brief scenes by bringing the remote character of Abby to life. Now in her early fifties, the famously tempestuous actress seems to rein in her innate fieriness to play a woman who consciously disconnects herself from the family she raised. What remains is a crumbling façade of propriety masking this obvious gap. It's similar to Mary Tyler Moore's turn as the cold mother in "Ordinary People", but casting the normally vibrant Winger (who probably would have played Kym a quarter century ago) is a masterstroke.

The film is not perfect. Demme's home-video approach, while novel at first, proves wearing over the 114-minute running time. Pacing is also a problem, especially when the focus turns to the minutiae of the wedding ceremony and reception. I wish Demme could have cut this part of the film, so we could get to the icy, unfinished resolution sooner. As a filmmaker who obviously enjoys making music concert films ("Stop Making Sense", "Neil Young: Heart of Gold"), there are quite a few musical performances presented in total. However, for non-aficionados, it may prove too much over time. While it's refreshing to see interracial marriages treated so casually (Lumet's grandmother is legend Lena Horne), Demme makes almost too big a point in presenting a global community though the diverse music and the wedding's multi-cultural themes. The movie starts to feel like a Putumayo collection of third-world performances. Still, Demme's intentions can't be faulted, and neither can the piercing work of Hathaway and Winger.
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