With allusions to Dogme filmmaking (if the dialogue were in Danish, one would swear this was a film by von Trier or Vinterberg) and brimming with the most Altmanesque of mechanizations, Jonathan Demme has taken a script idea that could have so easily fallen into an oversentimentalized vortex of banality and mediocre obviousness, and handed us something not unlike a cinematic punch in the gut, but with beauty, sublimity and a certain realistic dream quality, all stuffed to the veritable rafters with an unquestioned multi-cultural melange of just about everything from whitebread Connecticut sterility to afro-carib-centric chest-thumping to repressed unanswered anger to far eastern new age lama chanting to cold hearted rehab mantras to erupting unbridled sadness to Robyn Hitchcock and Fab Five Freddy, all of which is as much Jonathan Demme as Italian family squabbles and bloody mob beatdowns are Martin Scorsese or creepy pseudo-suburban underground netherworlds are David Lynch.
In essence, Demme has combined his deft handling of undesirable filmic material, as in his own Oscar-winning psycho warhorse Silence of the Lambs and his frenzied enthusiasms for world music, as seen in his myriad of music videologies and documentaries, and has created this upliftingly horrifying (or is that horrifyingly uplifting?) hybrid of disenfranchised stereotypes and oft-claustrophobic human drama all rolled into the story of one big slap-happy miserable dysfunctional family get-together, which under a lesser, or should I say more mainstream comfortable director could easily have been a disaster of well-intentioned yet ill-conceived plebianistic movie-making.
Like a Benetton ad without the hype, Demme's world book wedding celebration, replete with just about every genre, from alt rock to African drumming to country twang to rap, jazz, classical and even a brief peek at some sort of south seas something, imaginable and the unquestioned interlocking of the four corners of the Earth, is nothing shy of pure unaffected entertainment. With this being Demme, the idea of a black man marrying a white woman never becomes the story. We are never bogged down with the oft-cliche-riddled inter-character fighting over racial disharmony that many a lesser director (or one working for the studio system of eternal political correctness eggshell walking) would have so blatantly stepped waist high in. It is never brought into question. It simply is. Not for good nor for bad. It just is.
Perhaps this is a ripple effect of the post-Bush worldwide election elation that gave us all hope for a better world ahead (even if Demme finished his film well before the unprecedented happenings of November 4, 2008) or perhaps it is some sort of Utopian hyper-reality that hovers just below the surface of our own world (made all the more bitter lo these past eight years) or perhaps it is just Demme being Demme, and wearing upon his sleeve his natural and genuine love and passion for cultural diversity and racial indifference. Then again, perhaps it is not the case of black or white or red or brown or yellow (to use the simplicities of a Crayola box as metaphor) but simply the story of real people with real problems. Perhaps this is not a tale above or below racial and cultural questions, but one much beyond them altogether.
But enough about all that, for then there is Anne Hathaway. Beautiful alluring sexy Anne Hathaway. For, title notwithstanding, and keeping with her character's own self-absorption and narcissistic tantrum-setting, cultural harmony aside, this is invariably Hathaway's stage to strut and fret her hours upon as recently rehab-released blacksheep sister-of-the-bride Kym. Entering her family home like some sort of half-cracked disquieting gila monster of apprehension and anxiety with a huge chip on her shoulder and an even more humongous monkey on her back , Kym manages to disrupt the feted proceedings with a self-centered mockery of everything her family - and especially her sister - hold dear. At the rehearsal party dinner, Kym begins her bridal toast "I am Shiva the destroyer, your harbinger of doom this evening" and she may not be far from the truth. Kym is angry, bitter, jaded and quite often the most unpleasant person in the room yet at the same time she is obviously terrified of life and everyone around her, acting the fool to hide the secret shame she has carried around for many years. And all this is done with the most cunning of aplomb by a surprisingly gritty Ms. Hathaway.
Yes, this is the same Anne Hathaway who was the very epitome of teen angst-cum-innocence in the Princess Diaries movies and yes, this is the same Anne Hathaway who played dress-up in the fluffy yet quite entertaining The Devil Wears Prada - and yes, this is the same Anne Hathaway who can be seen in a trailer before the film trading pillowy gossamer Hollywood barbs at Kate Hudson. But this is also the same Anne Hathaway who has taken on roles in Brokeback Mountain and the recent, albeit it rather forgettable thriller Passengers and she has begun work on Tim Burton's live-action Alice in Wonderland. So perhaps this is the Anne Hathaway that should be, and could be, and hopefully will be. A subtly nuanced actress (was Prada co-star Streep any influence one must surely wonder?) with both the fortitude and the character to pull of what could easily have been nothing but one gigantic cliche under the auspices of another actress. Perhaps this is the Anne Hathaway of the future. [12/05/08]