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Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married is a formidable collaboration between director Jonathan Demme and writer Jenny Lumet. I'm not in a position to say who brought what to the table, but the edginess of Mr Demme's filmmaking seems both suited to and inspired by Ms Lumet's concoction of family secrets and ostentatious multiculturalism. The in-your-face ceaselessness of the World Music entertainment that has been lined up for the wedding of Rachel and Sidney at the end is matched by the schmeary pans of Declan Quinn's camera work precise where it needs to be, but highly suggestive of the home movie. There is an air about the film of turning Dogma on its head, of playing by Dogma's austere rules in order to create a perfectly conventional Hollywood narrative. Instead of making commercial film "real," Rachel Getting Married embeds amateur style in a commercial-film setting.

Put it another way: Anne Hathaway, Hollywood princess, can do grunge, can contribute to an "indie" look and feel. There's no escaping Production Values.

I mentioned family secrets a moment ago, but in fact there no secrets in this film, just a very expensive decision not to talk about a now-distant catastrophe. The screenplay ingeniously yokes the audience's discoveries about this catastrophe to the family's grudging acknowledgment of them. The highly cathartic climax involves two women, a fist-fight, a station wagon, and a tree. The car is totaled, but, beyond that, the damages are symbolic. Kym (Ms Hathaway) may finally be able to get on with her life, while her sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), can make an untroubled commitment to Sidney. Get married, I mean.

Discerning viewers will be drawn to this movie by reports of the performances given by Bill Irwin and Debra Winger, who play the girls' parents, Paul and Abby. Paul and Abby have not been married for some time since shortly after the catastrophe, one suspects. Curiously, the girls have grown up in Paul's house, not Abby's. Paul has obviously labored mightily to maintain a normal home for his daughters, and it has left him with something of a food fetish. The kitchen is his domain, and he is always trying to feed someone. (Mr Irwin's trim figure gives Paul's obsession a piquancy.) Surely Rachel Getting Married is the only major motion picture to feature competitive dishwasher-loading. As for Abby, she has drawn a line across her first family, becoming more a benign auntie than a mother to Rachel and Kym. As both girls have long since grown up and left home, returning only for Rachel's highly idiosyncratic nuptials, it's clear that both Paul and Abby, both re-married, lead their respective everyday lives in an illusion of childlessness. Crackerjack actors, Mr Irwin and Ms Winger register every wrinkle and furrow of their characters' mundane struggle to keep the truth at arm's length.

The fact that, our anxieties notwithstanding, nothing really "happens" in the final, wedding quarter of Rachel Getting Married is not a disappointment. There is a great deal of sadness in the party scenes. Because this reflects the past, and has nothing to do with the wedding itself, the sadness is not in any way ironic; we're not been told that the union of Rachel and Sidney is somehow doomed. At the same time, the celebration's frantic multiculturalism speaks volumes about the determination of Rachel's family not just to break with the past but to break it. Although Sidney's family is highly respectable Afro-American, it is Rachel's that seems to be coming up from some kind of bondage.

Ms Hathaway and Ms DeWitt are extraordinary, both alone and together, and it is hard to believe that the latter is not a star of the former's magnitude. The tension between their sisterly affection and their sibling rivalry, intensified hugely by the family's tragedy, is so palpable that acting seems inconceivable. It's also clear that the stature of both women is only going to increase with age. (October 2008)

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