Rehab looks idyllic compaired to the 'altared' states of this particular family wedding, says Kimberly Gadette.
It’s Runaway Bride's unnecessary sequel: the runaway bridal party. If endless scenes of revelers dancing, toasting and singing tuneless solos at some stranger's wedding is your cup of tea then have at it.
For the rest of us, time might be better spent watching our own wedding videos. At least we've got a passing familiarity with our own family, and know exactly who to avoid. No such luxury is afforded the audience member who, like the unsuspecting friend-of-a-friend suddenly cornered by the groom's malevolent Uncle Nigel, finds himself pinned to his chair, unable to escape without causing undue attention.
The film opens with a scent of a story – recovering drug addict Kym (Anne Hathaway) is jumping out of the rehab frying pan into the fire of her dysfunctional family manse on the occasion of the impending nuptials of sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). But the scent grows scents-less, the story devolving into an indulgent, hand-held camera vérité tour of every last hour of this eternal weekend in the country. It's as if director Jonathan Demme traded in a plot for time-travel back to his 1984 concert film, Stop Making Sense. But rather than filming one group of Talking Heads, Demme enlists hundreds of them – musicians, friends, extras, perhaps his personal drycleaner – to chime in whenever they feel the urge. He also employs a few volunteer cameramen to cover every uninteresting utterance imaginable. Hey, Mr. Demme, why not invite B-movie king Roger Corman to strap on a mini-cam, too, just in case the mood strikes? Oh … wait …you did.
Demme credits his free-flowing form to the even more free-flowing script by fledgling screenwriter Jenny Lumet. "The looseness of Jenny’s script made me feel that this shouldn’t be a tightly-directed movie," says Demme. "I told the actors that they had to take us through a complete wedding, and incidentally, they had to stage it themselves." And he got paid for doing … what? Directing … traffic? Supervising craft services? The free flow concept might have worked with a skilled group of improv-adept performers, eg, acting troupes employed by a Mike Leigh, a Robert Altman, a John Cassavetes. But this film is too sparse in both story and experienced actors, having to rest on the few professional shoulders of Hathaway, Bill Irwin's convivial yet harried host, and Dewitt, trapped in multiple scenes of psychobabble. Meanwhile, Debra Winger's services are shamefully wasted.
Like the guest who's overstayed his welcome by a week, the camera simply can't take a hint when it's time to move on. A bad feeling creeps up early when Kym and Rachel prattle on about a third party who we suspect we'll never meet. Bingo. Later, the groom (Tunde Adebimpe) bursts into song. ('Burst' is really a misnomer, with one lethargic verse following another, following another.) A promising scene entailing a dishwasher-loading race between father and son-in-law is somewhat amusing – until a treasured family memento is discovered among the plates. How no one's found it earlier, gathering dust in a heavily-trafficked kitchen cabinet after ten years, strains credulity. Do these people only order take-out? A confrontation between mother (Debra Winger) and daughter Kym finally catches fire. Aha, we're finally getting somewhere. But no. Not when Demme has another dozen musical performances to shoot. Bring on the elephants and dancing girls! Seriously, Demme tops the wedding cake with elephant décor, and shoots legions of said dancing girls.
So what's all the buzz about this film? It's Anne Hathaway's performance, recently nominated for an Oscar. Like easily-cowed two-year-olds at a magic show, gasping when Mr. Marvel pulls a quarter from little Jimmy's ear, the Academy voters wax ecstatic when an actor goes Auschwitz, accent or sans shampoo. (By combining all three, Kate Winslet was a shoo-in for her Hanna Schmitz in The Reader.)
And so Hathaway does the limp-hair limbo, proving she can face the camera with runny-mascara'd, panda eyes right along with the best of 'em (think Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Jennifer Jason Leigh). Yet actors are supposed to have a decent skill set, adept at rendering multiple characters – hence the word ‘act.’ Yes, Hathaway turns in a decent performance. But it could have been great, had there been a screenwriter crafting well-scripted dialogue, and a director creating scenes with pace and focus.
Given these broken rules of engagement … hanging out with nasty Uncle Nigel is far more entertaining.
Rating on a scale of 5 wilted bridal bouquets: 2
Release dates: US: October 31, 2008; UK: January 23, 2009
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Jenny Lumet
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Anisa George, Debra Winger
Rating: US: R; UK: 15
Running time: 113 minutes