Those who believe that Jonathan Demme went all soft with Philadelphia and never recovered may not be reassured by his latest movie, an ensemble tale of family pathology gussied up with handheld vérité camera work, world music, and improvising actors both trained and not. You can find the worst and the best of Demme in Rachel Getting Married, an avowed fan's fond farewell to Robert Altman, yet it's still a middlebrow domestic drama beating its wings against an experimental frame. For all the familiar terrain it plows—dysfunctional clan comes unglued, regroups—the movie is not without its sly rewards, one of which is Anne Hathaway, with chopped hair and pleading eyes, as the bad seed who threatens to wreck her sister's hippie nuptials. The actress' adroit grandstanding (Mad Men's Rosemarie DeWitt is also terrific as her straight-arrow sibling) puts up an impressive fight against a TV-movie plot that features the kind of secret only lazy screenwriters use to get the audience's tears flowing, a baffling subtextual plea for interracial love and understanding, and a climax full of gaga goodwill. With all the distracting flimflam buzzing around them, there's still a searing intensity to the battling duo at the movie's core, two imperfectly mothered sisters going at it like bantam roosters when they should be closing ranks.
Hathaway plays the bad girl for once
Opens at Egyptian, Fri., Oct. 10. Rated R. 113 minutes.