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Hathaway shines in gloomy 'Rachel Getting Married'

Rachel Getting Married (R)

2 stars out of 4

With an Oscar-level performance not dissimilar from that of Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball" or Charlize Theron in "Monster," Anne Hathaway (mostly) tosses her jaw-dropping good looks by the wayside and finally reveals she's more than just a pretty face.

Far from her three teen "princess" fantasies, "Becoming Jane" or even the glam-heavy "The Devil Wears Prada," "Rachel Getting Married" will forever change Hathaway's career for the better. Too bad it's in such an annoying movie few people will see and even fewer will like.

Shot completely on handheld video, the film is jagged and jittery with unflattering visuals and uncomfortable content that will make you squirm in your seat. Uncomfortable is fine if it serves a point, but at least a third of the scenes are extraneous and/or overlong and do not propel the story in the least. Mainstream audiences will hate it and a fair portion of die-hard art-house patrons will feel the same.

Hathaway plays Kym, a multi-substance abuser who has been in rehab for nine months and gets a weekend pass to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. Older sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is everything Kym is not. Gracious, upbeat, patient and eternally forgiving, Rachel loves Kym so much she's - for the most part - willing to overlook Kym's non-stop destructive and embarrassing behavior for the duration of her wedding weekend.

Written by first-timer Jenny Lumet (daughter of director Sidney) and directed by Jonathan Demme, the film tries to be an on-the-sly home movie, but comes off feeling more like a voyeuristic, fake reality TV show often suggesting "The Office." Demme and his cameras sneak around and intrude on moments we sometimes don't want or need to see. It returns Demme to his guerilla filmmaking roots but it falters slightly more often as it succeeds.

At the center of it all is Kym - an angry, petulant, self-pitying train wreck full of excuses and a never-ending string of apologies followed by requests of second chances. Even while Kym implodes and wears on us, Hathaway lends her the "little-girl-lost" approach that keeps us in complete sympathy, if not total empathy for her character. It's a tough balancing act and Hathaway completely pulls it off. Considering Hathaway's mostly lightweight resume, it's an amazing performance.

Lumet and Demme seem to be one beat behind or in front of each other for the entirety. She introduces a worthy situation and he inexplicably prolongs it. The sole point in the movie that totally clicks is a scene where Kym is alone with her estranged mother Abby (Debra Winger) which starts out docile and loving and ends in a way that will rattle everyone.

If you like pain and uneasiness accompanied with long stretches of pointless filler, Demme's movie is right up your alley. If you're a fan of Hathaway and would like to retain an unblemished opinion of her as a girl-next-door type, stay far away. If you're somewhere in the middle, try to find a bargain matinee show or wait for the DVD release. (Sony Pictures Classics)