On Friday, PJ and I finally got to see Rachel Getting Married, which stars Anne Hathaway as Kym, a young woman just leaving rehab at the same time that her sister, Rachel, is getting married. Here’s the trailer:

Hathaway is such an endearing actress that her role as Kym is quite a departure for her — Kym is fairly unlikeable for much of the movie. Selfish, immature, and without appropriate boundaries, Kym is a total mess as she deals with her family during her sister’s wedding. We learn early on in the film that Kym has been a drug addict for most of her life and that her addiction had led to tragedy: she’s responsible for killing someone in an automobile accident while high. This tragedy — as well as Kym’s addiction — is something that her family doesn’t know how to deal with, making it all the more difficult for her to deal with it.

This lack of communication intermixed with recriminations, fighting, and emotional trauma makes Rachel Getting Married a relatively difficult film to watch. Some of the scenes go on forever, but very little happens in the way of plot: Kym comes home from rehab, gets into fights with all of her immediate family members, the rehearsal dinner takes place, and the next day Rachel gets married to Sidney, an African American musician. There’s also a car wreck and a woman-on-woman slapfest, but that’s about it.

I am therefore surprised to say that I loved it. One of the things I’ve learned about myself by blogging movie reviews is that I love the kind of gritty realism that Rachel Getting Married exemplifies. Jonathan Demme shoots this movie in somewhat of a documentary style, especially in a key scene — the rehearsal dinner — in which another character is recording the festivities with a camcorder. Apparently, I love movies that feel like we’re watching a semi-depressing documentary! Demme cultivates a very naturalistic style from his performers and crew. It makes the drama all the more effective, I think, because it makes it feel real rather than staged or too over the top. While this movie deal with some big tragedy, it never seems contrived or theatrical.

Plus, I recognize a certain affinity for a character like Kym. While I’ve never been an addict, her need for attention is something that I can identify with all too well. Even though Kym is supposed to be unlikeable for most of the movie, I found myself on her side of most of the debates. Hathaway does a great job in this role. She definitely deserved her Oscar nomination and probably should have tied with Meryl Streep for the win.

Rosemary Dewitt plays Rachel, who has always been the good daughter/sister but who also resents Kym for the tragedy and drama that she has brought into all of their lives. She’s really good in a complicated part. But the core performance of the movie, apart from Hathaway’s, is Debra Winger‘s as Abby, the mother. Winger is excellent in this role. Where other actresses would have been tempted to overplay this part, Winger is very reserved, which makes this woman even more interesting. Her Abby is scared, loving (in her way), and strong while simultaneously being cold, detached, and one of the core problems that has slowly destroyed this family. I hope this movie marks a Renaissance in Winger’s career.

As PJ and I have talked about the film, our conversation focused on two things. First, this movie is clearly a critique of a certain kind of affluent liberal perspective. Rachel’s wedding is about as multicultural as you can get — she’s marrying a black man, after all —  and there is a lengthy sequence in which various people of color are trotted out to perform their culture as part of the wedding entertainment. There’s even a cameo by Tamyra Gray from American Idol! When this is compared to the expense of Rachel’s Indian-themed wedding (this is a Jewish family uniting with an African American family, remember — where did all the Hindu stuff come from?!) and combined with the family’s counterproductive patterns in producing and reacting to Kym’s additions, it struck us as a rather bitter critique of a liberal political correctness that celebates cultures but ignores the human beings, their lives, and emotions that make up those cultures.

Second, I read this film as constructing Kym as bisexual, if not gay. There is a very peripheral character that we only see twice. I read this character, a woman, as Kym’s girlfriend, based on a brief conversation the two have early in the film. PJ didn’t see it this way. Whether this is what Jenny Lumet‘s script intends, it makes the film even more interesting if it’s seen as, at least in part, about this family’s inability to deal with Kym’s sexuality, which is unspoken and almost totally hidden. I think this film could be saying that, for this family, interracial marriage is great, but homosexuality isn’t. None of the other characters are noticeably gay. Would a liberal Jewish family with their multicultural wedding party really not have any gay friends, relatives, or acquaintances? If Kym’s sexuality is the great taboo underlying some of the family’s issues, then it makes more sense that gayness in general is kept invisible. (Kym does sleep with a man during the film, but I take this to be about her addiction and not about her sexuality. It’s also important, it seems to me, that we only see the post-coital conversation and the relationship between them quickly develops into a friendship rather than a romance.)

Whether I’m crazy to read the film in this way, I think it’s a very interesting and complex movie. I’ve now added it to my favorite movies list for 2008. It’s a really good film.