Anne Hathaway is immensely watchable. Her enormous brown cows make her seem vulnerable and accessible and there’s always intelligence in her performances. All of that applies in Rachel. She plays Kym, a recovering drug addict who’s just been released from rehab to attend her sister Rachel’s wedding. At times, Hathaway is brave enough to allow the audience to dislike Kym and her self-centered destructiveness. Her shedding of the “cute” persona she attained from the Princess Diaries movies doesn’t come across as trying too hard, unlike, say, Meg Ryan playing an alky in When a Man Loves a Woman. That’s because she doesn’t play it hard-core (despite the chopped hair and black eyeliner); she’s just an uncomfortable character who spreads the discomfort to everyone around her.
The acting is very strong all the way around–Rosemarie DeWitt as the long-suffering sister who’s finally making her feelings known, Bill Irwin especially as the father desperately trying to keep his family from falling apart by compulsively making sandwiches, and Debra Winger as the repressed matriarch whose lid is on so tight she could blow at any minute.
This movie was directed by Jonathan Demme, he of The Silence of the Lambs and Something Wild. So why didn’t I love it? Perhaps because the subject matter is so heavy and not all things are resolved at the end. Everyone is left with a sad veil over them. I don’t need things neatly tied up; I just want a sense of hope and I’m not sure this movie made me feel that. Things more or less go back to the way they were before the events in the film unfolded so I’m not sure what the characters accomplished and why we have to witness it all.
Or maybe I didn’t love it because the film was entirely shot by hand-held camera with a kind of grainy, documentary look. The experience was like watching someone’s uncomfortable, unedited (there were long shots where not much happened) home video which made me seasick with all the movement. I attended a screening where Ms. Hathaway and the writer, Jenny Lumet, said that style was intentional because Demme wanted that cinema verite effect. He succeeded; I just need to find the nearest bathroom.