We are accustomed to seeing Anne Hathaway as a ‘sugar and spice’ sort of actress after The Princess Diaries, Ella Enchanted and ‘Agent 99’ in Get Smart. In Rachel Getting Married she is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar by playing Kym who is anything but ‘all things nice.’
After an extended absence from home, Kym (Hathaway) releases herself from a Sanatorium, 9 months clean from drug abuse. She is home for the weekend for her sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) who is marrying Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). Rachel is barely in the car to come home when the family rivalries and the imperfect self interest begin to impose themselves on her actions and conversation.
In the context of the story, Kym allows the screenwriter to inject a destabilising catalyst into the dynamics of an ordinary family where the histories are tightly interwoven and certain issues have been overgrown and avoided.
As the family “Sheba the destroyer” (‘black sheep’ doesn’t quite capture it) Kym’s nadir comes in the form of the pre-wedding rehearsal dinner speech where any or all of the guests are welcome to say a few words about the happy couple. Kym’s inability to look beyond her own needs makes for the kind of train-crash wedding speech that is so awkward that you can be content she is not your own sister.
When the characters do finally have an honest and open conversation about their repressed feelings of hurt and disappointment, we know this is the first conversation they have had like this for a long, long time. Free of purely self interest, it allows the characters, and the sisters in particular, to hear and respect each other. It is in many ways the film’s high point as we sense that there is a way forward.
Despite all our imperfections and all our failings, we all need the acceptance, grace and forgiveness of those who love us. When Rachel washes the bruised Kym and helps her into her bridesmaid dress, we know an important transaction has taken place beyond the competition and self-interest of the earlier part of the film.
The film's realism of its characters is impressive – the choice of an unobtrusive camera reinforces this sense of a realistic weekend together.
The wedding itself has moments of great sensitivity and joy. The musician friends are both part of the story and beyond it, as they are both wedding guests and the film’s soundtrack evoking mood and turning points in their playing, practising and jamming.
This is a great character study of a whole family exploring both great hardship and incomparable joy. Hathaway is more than just a pretty face who becomes entirely believable in her role and deserved her nomination. I cannot say however that I enjoyed the first half of this film. I find family drama and conflict (and wedding speeches) a difficult set of topics to confront. This whole drama however is rewarding as is its message. 4 out of 5.