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Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married is none other than Jonathan Demme’s best film, and would curry favour with me in any case as it is, Magnolia aside, the best Robert Altman film not directed by the great man himself.

The idea, such as it is, is often considered a lazy way of developing character: the social gathering. Voila, you have all kinds of interplay, bonhomie, discord, dialogue that is automatically on tap. People clash, spark, engage, and drama evolves – things happen. And we’ve all been to a wedding. We’ve all avoided our familial equivalent of the black sheep, the uncle at the bar swilling shots at noon, the over-garrulous aunt, the irritating leech.

The Rachel in question isn’t our main protagonist and focal point; that’s Anne Hathaway’s dissolute Kim, unleashed from rehab to join her sis’ for her big day. She is dropped off at the parental home (dad being the eternally affable Bill Irwin, who is brilliant throughout – teetering but stoic in the face of ever-near catastrophe, inhabiting whatever face he deems is appropriate for each fraught face-off) to no fanfare and palpable unease; she is the bad apple, we’re led to accept, and we feel the beautifully cajoled disquiet the rest of the cast grapple with whenever she’s in their proximity as she wanders through the wedding pre-amble and back into a life she, as we will discover, has long been tragically cast out of. Her sister Rachel’s embrace as they reunite betrays the anxiety and animus between them, and we’re waiting for everything to erupt as Hathaway’s kinetic disaster-zone hangs on to tolerability and sanity throughout proceedings. Dad is the pained, dignified, hapless interlocutor as all kinds of family hell slowly, expertly become apparent at the roomy hands of Demme, who skilfully leads a superb ensemble without getting in the way.

Amongst many other fine performances, the return of Debra Winger, as Kym’s estranged mother, deserves a brief mention. She perfectly captures an askew, distraught woman scarcely retaining a semblance of normality (which memorably slips towards the end of the film) and seems poisoned but reluctant to admit the fact. And, let’s be honest, she’s terrifying without uttering a word or casting a glance. It’s a wonderfully nuanced effort that deserves at the very least a bit of a career reprisal.

Hathaway, though, is magnificent and it’s her film. She is seriously damaged, obnoxious, devil’s advocate at the drop of a hat and totally without pretension. It’s the latter factor that lies behind her fashioning a likeably bruised portrait of a victim of youthful circumstance and self-hate, someone who has made a mistake and been left behind, and yet survives as a contortion of regret and ebullience. The film is a total triumph from start to finish, a rare bird in cinema that takes its time and refuses to budge or conform and simply unfolds, brilliantly. Oh, and it contains the greatest scene involving a dishwasher. Ever.

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