What is the meaning of a handheld camera? You know that skittering, restless close-up cinematography that induces nausea in most people, yet seems to also serve as a legitimizing point-of-view, implying documentary realism, if not the arch aestheticism of the avant-garde? It shows up here in the latest Jonathan Demme film-made entirely with an HD digital camera-and it has recently been found in everything from Cloverfield to Quarantine. But what does it suggest? For the first half hour of this film, the handheld just seemed trendy and annoying.
Which is weird because this film’s narrative feels retro. Rachel Getting Married is the kind of vehicle that once upon a time belonged to a young Liza Minnelli, featuring a fragile, blatantly neurotic young woman-one whose fuses were shorter than her bobbed coif. Ann Hathaway, who looks wide-eyed and Minnelli-esque, plays Kym, the sister of the title character who returns home from a long cycle of drugs and rehab just in time for her sister’s nuptials. Most of the tension comes from Hathaway’s ability to make Kym seem compelling and mysteriously wounded. And then, once we discover her secret, convincingly fraught. But great performances are the rule here, backed up by fine offbeat casting, particularly with Kym’s mom and dad (played by the ingeniously malleable art clown Bill Irwin and the flint-hard Debra Winger).
This is the first real Demme film since The Silence of the Lambs elbowed him into the mainstream, so it’s also populated with hip musical touches and cameos from the likes of Robyn Hitchcock and Tunde Adebimpe (from TV on the Radio). And even though it’s a good 15 minutes too long, the film manages to keep Kym’s secret suspenseful while delivering the storyline payoff. It also examines the idea of forgiveness-and the technical difficulties in self-forgiveness. It was at that point that I forgave the jumpy camera and began thinking of it as another character in the film: a witness stalking Kym herself. Demme is a thoughtful filmmaker, and even though this is an imperfect example of his craft, it’s meaningfully claustrophobic, like family, but warm and close in a familiar fashion too.