IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Reception party ruins ‘Rachel Getting Married’

Jonathan Demme’s compelling dysfunctional family drama goes off the rails when the musical performances start.

No matter how sophisticated home theater systems get, I’m a big advocate of seeing movies on the big screen. Yes, tickets and snacks are expensive, and people don’t know how to behave in public anymore, but the actors and cinematographers and writers and directors want you to see their work writ large, in a dark room, with booming speakers. Watching films on an iPhone may be convenient, but it’s not what the artists intended.

For “Rachel Getting Married,” however, I’m going to lift my usual rule and suggest you wait to see it until you have access to a fast-forward button, for reasons I’ll explain momentarily.

Anne Hathaway stars as Kym, a messed-up young woman who gets a weekend pass out of rehab so that she can return to her home in Connecticut for the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt).

We’ve all seen lots of movies about dysfunctional families, substance abusers and suburban weddings in the last few decades, goodness knows, but screenwriter Jenny Lumet (daughter of director Sydney) deftly shows more than she tells. Rather than write out conversations where characters tell each other things they already know so that the audience can be brought up to speed, Lumet drops little hints along the way.

In moments when Kym’s father (Bill Irwin) and stepmother (Anna Deavere Smith) look at each other in silent concern or Kym explores her old house or the two sisters have lovingly awkward conversations about the past — to say nothing of Kym’s spectacularly disastrous rehearsal-dinner toast — attentive audiences can glean this family’s tragedy and the imbalance of their relationships.

The cast is terrific, from Hathaway’s black hole of narcissism and neediness to the always-radiant Debra Winger as Kym and Rachel’s mostly absent mom. Hathaway is getting Oscar buzz, not so much for breaking new ground with this performance but for being a luminously gorgeous actress playing a role where she swears, sports a self-inflicted bad haircut and has sex with a fellow NA member (the handsome Mather Zickel as Kieran, who winds up as the wedding’s best man). Intentionally or not, she’s got the Halle Berry/Charlize Theron playbook in her hands and she’s using it brilliantly.

Where “Rachel Getting Married” needs the fast-forward button is, oddly enough, when Rachel finally gets married. Up until that point, the film is a compelling mix of painful comedy and revelatory tragedy, but when we get to the wedding reception, director Jonathan Demme gets completely distracted by the musicians he’s cast to perform in the film.

I adore Robyn Hitchcock (the subject of a Demme documentary) and Sister Carol (who memorably put a Caribbean spin on “Wild Thing” at the end of Demme’s “Something Wild”), but their musical performances — along with that of a samba combo — grind the plot of “Rachel” to a complete halt. By the time the amps get unplugged and the characters start speaking again, the momentum is completely lost.

That’s a real shame, because “Rachel Getting Married” was shaping up to be one of the season’s more moving dramas. The best way to work around the director’s self-sabotage would be, I think, to get the DVD, skip past the reception music, watch the rest of the movie, and then go back and listen to the songs later. That way, you’ll get to enjoy a fine script as well as Jonathan Demme’s favorite bands without feeling like the director just lost his way.