In Rachel Getting Married, Jonathan Demme straddles the possibilities available to a big-time director who is also fiercely independent. Kylie Boltin reviews the film.
12 Feb 2009 - 9:28 AM  UPDATED 27 Apr 2017 - 9:50 AM

Rachel Getting Married is the most recent feature by maverick director, Jonathan Demme – the longstanding stalwart of the New York film industry. Demme’s career has seen him as the director behind such big budget films as Silence of the Lambs (1991) – for which he won an Academy Award for Best Director, Philadelphia (1993) and The Manchurian Candidate (2004). He is also the luminary behind one of the most respected the music documentaries of all time, Stop Making Sense (1984) and the moving documentary about the late Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist, Jean Dominique, The Agronomist (2003).

In Rachel Getting Married, Demme straddles the possibilities available to a big-time director who is also fiercely independent. Written by first time scriptwriter, Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney Lumet, grand-daughter of Lena Horne), shot on multiple Sony HDV, the film shares a lot with the observational filmmaking style mastered by Demme in his rock documentaries about Talking Heads and Neil Young. In fact, at times throughout Rachel you could be forgiven for thinking that you had paid admission for a cinema vérité concert held in your neighbour's backyard – such is the extent that the handheld, cut and paste 'coverage’ of music plays in this film.

At the same time, Demme can attract an actress with the mainstream pull of Anne Hathaway to play the troubled Kym – long-term, now recovering, addict. After 10 years in rehab, Kym returns to the family home in Connecticut for her elder sister Rachel's wedding. Rachel is played flawlessly by actress-to-watch, Rosemarie DeWitt (soon to be seen in the Diablo Cody penned, United States of Tara).

Will this be the film that Hathaway is remembered for? It will certainly be one of them. Her role is unrecognisable from those she has largely become known for – most recently as Emma, opposite Kate Hudson’s Liv in the throw-away-but-fun, Bride Wars (Gary Winick, 2009).

As Kym, Hathaway’s underlying sadness is palpable. Hers is an understated but exceptionally strong performance. She delivers Lumet’s complex characterisation with grace — aggressively when called for and with droll humour when required. It’s a fabulous performance in an unlikely role that will surely spark other similarly inspired casting if the A-list actress has the opportunity and/or inclination.

For contemporary music fans, of note is Tunde Adebimpe who plays Rachel’s fiancé, Sidney — a gentle man, fanatical about music. Adebimpe’s 'real life’ role as member of New York-based band TV on the Radio, is put to good use by Demme with Adebimpe singing Neil Young’s 'Unknown Legend’ as part of his wedding vows. His performance is matched by DeWitt who was instructed by Demme to write her character’s vows – such is his quest for realism!