Tom Speaker

The essence of Rachel Getting Married is reflected in its title-yes, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married, but the story actually focuses on Kym (Anne Hathaway), the sister just out of rehab begging for attention and creating a mess whenever she’s not noticed.

Kym may be nine months clean, but it doesn’t appear that she’s ready to function in society again. Since Kym’s release from rehab was unknown, Rachel has not anointed her the maid of honor, and Kym creates an early scene about it. Even at a rehearsal dinner where family members from both family sides are toasting each other (Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio plays the husband-to-be), Kym weaves an egocentric and largely pointless speech about her adventures in rehab.

Sound depressing? Not entirely so. What’s unusual about Rachel Getting Married is that despite its dark matter-and there are plenty of depressing moments-the love and warmth impress us just as much. Even though Kym has betrayed her family and cost them much, they are still willing to take her in and care for her because that’s what families do.

On top of that is the truthfulness that fills some of the best cinema-the realistic moments that incite us to say “Yes!” at their truthfulness are abundant. Part of this is due to the performances. Despite her inevitably kitschy performance in The Princess Diaries, Hathaway demonstrates enormous talent as an actress and resonates here as legitimate as any drug addict I’ve ever seen on-screen.

Perhaps the most moving performance comes from Bill Irwin as the sisters’ father. He juggles a difficult mix of the sincere and the phony, often embodying the latter in order to level conflicts out. The verisimilitude of his personality sticks better than any character’s in recent memory.

Director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet’s dedication to reality has both its pros and cons. One positive is the work’s style: like any homemade documentary, the story is portrayed through shaky low-quality cameras with awkward lighting and gritty visuals. On the down side, several of the film’s sequences-such as the rehearsal dinner and later reception-go on for far too long. They’re not unenjoyable to watch, especially since we like being in these characters’ company (when we laugh, it’s very much as if we’re laughing with them), but they sometimes bring little to the story.

Still, Demme’s style allows for the movie to be a singular experience: when we walk out, it doesn’t feel like we’ve seen a movie, but rather that we’ve witnessed real life. And with art attempting to reduce the wall between itself and existence, that’s perhaps the highest compliment one can pay Rachel Getting Married.