Hathaway propels Demme’s ‘Rachel’

Posted Dec. 21, 2008, at 7 p.m.

Coming soon to theaters

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, directed by Jonathan Demme, written by Jenny Lumet, 113 minutes, rated R.

Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married” isn’t really about Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) at all. It’s about her screwed-up sister Kym (Anne Hathaway in her best performance to date), a smoky, troublemaking but ultimately well-meaning mess on leave from a rehab facility who has been on drugs and booze for so much of her life, she unfortunately claimed another life along the way.

Just who that is won’t be revealed here, but it drives the emotions in a movie happy to unleash them at any point, which is often.

Shot with a handheld camera, which gives the movie an immediacy and an intimacy it otherwise might have lacked, Demme based the film on Jenny Lumet’s script. What he features here is the year’s most

diverse cast, so much so that you half-expect the pending nuptials to be held at the United Nations instead of in the backyard of Rachel and Kym’s father, Paul (Bill Irwin), and their stepmother, Carol (Anna Deavere Smith).

This is, after all, a film about the complications that come when a clash of cultures collides in a home so broken, the foundation shakes the moment Kym steps inside.

Oh, everyone tries to make it work, at least initially, with co-dependent Paul rushing to give Kym food she doesn’t really want while the elephant in the room — Kym’s addictions, her time in rehab and now her time away from it — go strenuously ignored.

Some of the movie’s best scenes are, in fact, about this family going through the motions of what they think it means to be a happy family — they laugh so hard at hollow jokes and their few good memories, you know that laughter is doomed to eventually be caught in someone’s throat, which it is.

After all, before long, Kym’s loose mouth and shattered self-esteem are testing the waters to see just where she stands with her family now. To do so, she picks fights, she drops bombs, she sleeps with the best man (also a recovering addict), she needles Rachel and others, she scratches at wounds so deep they’ll never heal, and she isn’t really surprised to realize that she’s the one doing most of the bleeding.

That’s pretty much how it has always been for Kym. There’s a side of her that craves those familiar lows, while another side no longer wants any part of them. It’s her struggle to get to that healthy part of herself that “Rachel Getting Married” really is about, but it won’t be easy, particularly given Kym’s difficult relationship with her distant mother, Abby (a superb Debra Winger); her strained relationship with Rachel, who resents Kym for always stealing attention away from her, particularly now on her wedding day; and all the other people she has hurt along the way.

While parts of the movie feel false and manufactured, that’s never true for Hathaway’s performance, which provides the necessary jolt of reality and isolation in a film whose family would seemingly prefer as little of that as possible. And it’s also never true when Winger enters into the equation. Her mean mouth and calculating eyes go a long way in explaining why Kym turned out the way she did, and why this family is as screwed up as it is.

Grade: B-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, directed by Rob Cohen, written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, 112 minutes, rated PG-13.

The third installment in “The Mummy” franchise has a few things going for it — most notably the terrific Michelle Yeoh, whom Hollywood is seriously overlooking as a leading dramatic actress, and a game Brendan Fraser, who has whipped himself back into his “George of the Jungle” body, which proves enough to get him through the big set pieces and (cough) all that inspired writing.

Beyond these two, the film is nothing special, nothing risible, nothing memorable. In spite of its massive budget (upward of $200 million), the whole effort just evaporates onscreen.

Set in 1946, the film picks up with Rick (Fraser) and Evelyn O’Connell (Maria Bello, taking over for Rachel Weisz) itching to ditch their self-imposed retirement and get back into the old swing of things. Since in their line of work, that generally means fighting the undead, they do so not in Egypt but in China.

There, the Dragon Emperor (Jet Li) and his terra-cotta army are about to unleash all sorts of chaos when they’re unearthed by Rick and Evelyn’s son Alex (Luke Ford, thick as mud), who appears to be just a shade younger than each because, in real life, the actor is. His casting is just one of the movie’s major missteps — sorry, but exactly how old were Rick and Evelyn when they conceived him? Like, maybe, 10?

Each time they’re all onscreen together, that question is the elephant in the room, so it’s good that Yeoh is there to offer a distraction and deepen the proceedings as a 2,000-year-old sorceress determined to stop the Dragon Emperor cold. To do so, she’ll work alongside her daughter Lin (Isabella Leong), but plenty will be at stake for each, including the potential for losing their immortality.

While the energetic ending does feature some well-done special effects as two undead armies collide in a battle inspired by “Braveheart,” too much of the rest of the film is reminiscent of a creaky old carnival ride. Let’s call that ride “The Mummie Dearest.” You can slap all the fresh paint you want on this relic, pinch its pixilated cheeks, dust off its binary code and toss it back under the spotlight, but beneath it all are such rusty bolts and hinges, some will question why they climbed aboard in the first place.

Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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