Anne Hathaway is boldly off-putting in Rachel Getting Married

Anne Hathaway is boldly off-putting in Rachel Getting Married

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Thanksgiving upon us, we’ve opted to single out a couple of favorite movies about family get-togethers.

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

“I am Shiva the destroyer, your harbinger of doom this evening,” says Kym (Anne Hathaway), easing her way into the most awkward rehearsal-dinner toast of all time. But there’s truth to this introduction: The young woman is a force of destruction—a recovering drug addict fresh out of rehab, bulldozing her way into the wedding weekend of her uptight older sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). To put it charitably, Kym has done some damage. She played a starring role in the tragedy that tore her family apart, and her return opens those wounds anew, in part because this abrasive heroine seems intent on rubbing her mistakes (and her decade-long efforts to atone for them) in everyone’s face. There’s no conversation she can’t hijack, no high she can’t mellow with her confrontational “honesty.”

Were it nothing more than a showcase for Hathaway’s bravely off-putting performance, Rachel Getting Married would still be worth seeking out. But the film cuts past oozing narcissism to deeper insights about the way family bonds dissolve and reform. Jonathan Demme, in one of his finest directorial feats, applies the warmth and loosely observational style of his documentaries to a volatile dramatic scenario. For him, the story is mainly a pretense to eavesdrop, to let his cast of richly embodied (and believably related) characters relive their shared traumatic history one petty squabble at a time. The cast is uniformly terrific: While DeWitt plays passive-aggressive yin to Hathaway’s bull-in-a-china-shop yang, Bill Irwin indelibly occupies the role of a father hopelessly, perhaps detrimentally committed to keeping the peace. (Also great: TV On The Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe, as the gentle groom to be.)

Building and building in emotional intensity, until it’s become almost unbearably moving, Rachel Getting Married finds bittersweet catharsis in its final, celebratory passage. (Demme, the great music lover, can’t resist a little song and dance.) In place of a climactic shouting match or a tearful embrace, the director offers a simple yet grand gesture of sibling reconciliation. For a “harbinger of doom” like Kym, keeping quiet and ceding the spotlight is more than a show of good faith. Like the actress who plays her, she makes a breakthrough.

Availability: Rachel Getting Married is available on DVD, which can obtained through Netflix, and for rental or purchase through the major digital services.