A piercing study of a dysfunctional family, Rachael Getting Married doesn't have the intensity director Jonathan Demme's Oscar winning films like Philadelphia and The Silence of the Lambs offered. But this modestly budgeted film, which was one of the critics' favourites at the recent Toronto International Film Festival and endeared itself to the audiences too, has enough drama and a handful of excellent performances to be a hit with upscale audiences.
Indian audiences will be intrigued and even amused by an Indian style wedding cropping up in the film; director Demme is a great believer in multiculturalism.
This is Demme's first film after the disappointing The Manchurian Candidate released four years ago. He made the film after producing several documentaries including Man From Plains, a tribute to his hero, the former President Jimmy Carter. The new film is getting a platform release -- the first week it will be in New York and Los Angeles and will expand to other cities in the next four to six weeks, capitalising on word of mouth and reviews in major publications such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today.
Demme, who has made 27 films including disastrous flops like Beloved, has made a bittersweet film that could be the sleeping hit of the season.
A comedic and at times heartbreaking drama about the return of a highly emotional, tense and unpredictable estranged daughter to the family home for her sister Rachael's wedding, the film is not the usual wedding story filled with uplifting and funny moments at every corner. Kym's (Anne Hathaway) reemergence at the family upsets many, forcing long-simmering tensions to erupt.
It offers a wholly different Hathaway from her pleasant roles in the two Princess Diaries hits. Her penetrating performance could win her the Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
Another brilliant performance in this film with interracial casting comes from Debra Winger, in a small supporting role as the bride's mother. Like many characters in the film, Winger's character too is on the verge of an emotional wreck.
Kym, out for a short while from a rehab, is not doing her soon-to-be married sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) any favour. With her need to be the centre of attention and her foul tongue, Kym creates quite a few problems. And when she sleeps with the best man, the problems add. They are worsened when Kym gets to know that she is not the maid of honour.
At the Toronto International Film Festival, the self-effacing Demme said when the veteran filmmaker Sidney Lumet asked him to read a script daughter Jenny Lumet had written, he (Demme) read it out of curiosity. But he also began admiring the screenplay very quickly.
"I loved Jenny's flagrant disregard for the rules of formula, her lack of concern for making her characters likable in the conventional sense, and for what I considered to be her bold approach to truth, pain and humour," he said in Toronto. "I saw that a film could be made from this script that could mirror my reaction to reading it -- that to our own surprise, at a certain point as the story unfolds, despite the script's refusal to try to manipulate the reader's emotions, we become part of this problematic family and care very much about its members."
Demme and cinematographer Declan Quinn had worked on the documentary Man From Plains and they decided to give Rachael Getting Married a grainy home movie kind of look. That also meant a spontaneously shot film that would have a documentary look.
'We never rehearsed before filming,' Demme reveals in the press notes, 'and we rarely planned a shot in advance, preferring to let the actors begin the scene with the knowledge that Declan would be responding with the camera in the moment to what was going on. in this way, with no duplicated takes or set-ups, it helped keep the spontaneity factor as alive as possible for the cast.'
For Hathaway, the unrehearsed shoot and the complexity of her character were great incentives to offer a riveting performance. She says though her character seems to be unlikeable in the beginning, the audiences will get to understand her just the way some of the family members do at the end of the film.
'I love Kym's almost compulsive need for honesty,' she muses, 'and how direct she is. Her timing may not be appropriate, but she's trying so hard to get across the chasm of tragedy that separates her from her family. She's trying every day to choose joy and sobriety. She's fighting for her place in the family, trying to acknowledge and atone in her own way. At the end, maybe her sister Rachael understands her journey, and that acceptance is crucial.'