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The Lens: Does the movie belong to 'Rachel' or Kym?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 13, 2008 - Only a mixed review will do for Rachel Getting Married, starring Anne Hathaway as a young woman who has been in and out of rehab for a decade. Part of the problem comes from novice writer Jenny Lumet, daughter of the late director Sidney Lumet. While much of the dialogue and action rings true, some of it strains credulity.

I also expected more from the famed director Jonathan Demme, who has directed such fiction films as the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Beloved, Philadelphia and Silence of the Lambs and such non-fiction films as Swimming to Cambodia and Neil Young: Heart of Gold. Demme gets fine performances from his actors, but the camera work is self-consciously artsy and intrusive. However, this is certainly an addition to the collection of films about addiction, with a caveat to be given later.

The action opens with Kym (Anne Hathaway) getting picked up by her father and stepmother from the upscale institution where she has been a patient. Bill Irwin does an especially good job as Kym's father, who nervously chatters while taking Kym back to the family home, where preparations are under way for Kym's sister's wedding. Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is both delighted and ambivalent about her sister's return, for reasons soon to be revealed. The wedding will take place at the large family home on several acres in a posh Connecticut suburb.

Rachel's friends are a wonderfully diverse group and the wedding theme is India, complete with bride and bridesmaids in saris and a large blue elephant for a distinctive wedding cake. As the story unfolds, we learn about the proverbial elephant in this family's living room.

The story begins with the ride home and ends after the wedding; much happens in between. Hathaway's performance lays bare the anguish of addiction. Meanwhile, her sister, the good child, wonders if she will even get the spotlight on her own wedding day. Deborah Winger plays their aloof and brittle mother, but most of the story focuses on the two sisters and their father. There is plenty of family dynamic to behold.

Aside from issues with the writing and directing, I must add something else important. Addiction is even more horrible without money, both for the addicts and their family members. This does not detract from Kym's suffering or that of her family, but -- at least in this society -- it is true that an addict in the family can impoverish even a fairly prosperous family. Film has not completely neglected that story, so perhaps I should not begrudge this film, but I do.

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