Though the title and theme may remind one of 2007's Margot at the Wedding, Jonathan Demme's feel-good/feel-bad drama about a dysfunctional family - whose most troubled member, nine-months sober junkie daughter Kym (Anne Hathaway in an award-worthy performance), shows up at her sister's wedding only to open up all kinds of old wounds - is thankfully nowhere as chilly as Noah Baumbach's unlikable Margot. Rather, with its handheld approach (even letting some of the wedding "guests" film part of the proceedings, sort of like leaving disposable cameras on reception tables for all to use) and flurry of entertainers caught mid-performance, Rachel falls somewhere between Thomas Vinterberg's amazing The Celebration and Jennifer Jason Leigh's OK The Anniversary Party in terms of both style and quality.
I liked Rachel in general, but I had a lot of problems with it.
For starters, Demme and his cast and crew spend far too much time on the festivities' many musical interludes. At times it feels like a concert film. As a result, the two-hour film feels about thirty minutes too long. Demme forgets that, to the audience, it's not really that enjoyable to watch complete strangers whooping it up. One could argue that this is intentional - look at us having fun, while you sit there alone in the dark! - as this is how the family's miserable black sheep Kym must be feeling around all these obnoxiously happy yuppies. But I think that Demme just thinks he's showing you the most awesome wedding ever. (It may sound cynical, but I can imagine certain brides-to-be watching this film and taking notes.)
Demme also depicts a remarkable racial utopia within this extended family, which is refreshing, but after a while it comes across as a little too earnest and politically correct. The screenplay is by Jenny Lumet, whose own upbringing as the biracial daughter of director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of the legendary Lena Horne probably informed this ethnically harmonious and comfortably wealthy group, but it still reads as a little disingenuous.
The film never even mentions what the groom's or bride's family must do for a living in order to have literally dozens of notable musicians - from Robyn Hitchcock to Fab Five Freddy to a Brazilian samba troupe - perform for them, and it smacks more of Demme's own connections than it does any of the characters'.
What I was mostly hoping for was for the brutally honest Kym to lay the smackdown on all these phony multicultural feel-good theatrics put on by her severely broken family. It never comes, alas, but that doesn't detract from Hathaway's strong, no-nonsense performance, or indeed the work of any of her lesser-known costars. Lumet has written very rich characters and has allowed for some mind-bogglingly complicated relationships to develop between them, with no tidy endings. For that she should be lauded, and it forgives the ain't-we-hip bloat of Demme's movie.