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Prodigal daughter

Movies | Jonathan Demme gives moviegoers a little optimism

Issue: "Bleeding economy," Oct. 18, 2008

After soulless, immature, and technically perfect movies like Burn After Reading (and parts of The Dark Knight), moviegoers finally get a little optimism: The Truth About Charlie director Jonathan Demme masterminds Rachel Getting Married, a funny, hopeful sisterhood story that Demme made with his own money, with his friends, and shot in bright colors on digital cameras.

The prodigal daughter, pretty and self-absorbed Kym (Anne Hathaway, in a career-making performance), tries to hijack her sister's wedding. Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is sick of playing the good daughter, and the two keep trying to snatch back the spotlight in a series of gorgeously written arguments. Caught in the middle are Paul (Bill Irwin) and his second wife Carol (Anna Deavere Smith), who try to help Rachel pull together the wedding amid Kym's noisy meltdowns. Outbursts of profanity in these, combined with a brief sex scene, get the film its R rating.

Like the late Robert Altman or even playwright Anton Chekhov, Demme populates Rachel with curious characters such as Emma, a waspish bridesmaid who nakedly hates Kym for reasons that, we suspect, are pretty good. People from Kym's other life-like a hollow-eyed stylist who tells Kym that he's getting clean because he's moved by a story she told during rehab (a lie, it turns out)-accost her at inopportune moments.

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Somehow, Demme and screenwriter Jenny Lumet manage to keep Kym totally, unaccountably lovable in spite of her bad behavior. Like many, she wants to be redeemed but doesn't think it possible: "Sometimes I don't want to believe in a God that could forgive me. I have struggled with God so much." As many broken people learn, the struggle is not in vain.

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