A film with charm, grace and laughs, FATHER OF THE BRIDE is a rarity in the pantheon of White American Romantic Comedies (WARC). Firstly, because it’s watchable. Secondly, because it is post-comedy Steve Martin and it’s still watchable.
Remade from the 1950 Spencer Tracy farce of the same name, director Charles Shyer retains that film’s original twist on the abominations which would one day be known as Chick Flicks: the film’s star is not the focus of the “romance” but is the outside observer, as love labors on his daughter, as he narrates through the eyes of a doting, frazzled father.
Steve Martin is George Banks, the titular Father of the Bride, who plays his part with the aforementioned charm, grace and laughs. Unlike most WARCs, the father of this household is not the least intelligent member of the family; he is not portly, he doesn’t wear flannel shirts over white wife-beaters and he doesn’t moon over sports programming like it’s gospel. George owns his own business, is a loving father and husband, pragmatic, punctual, reliable and knows how to treat women with respect. He seems caught in that timewarp of a generation that was once hip and is losing its ground on the moving goalpost of hipness.
The comedy in this lighthearted farce is drawn first from George’s unwillingness to accept his daughter as an adult on the pathway to marriage, and then from the wedding planning. Luckily, the film comes hot on the heels of when Steve Martin was still Steve Martin – PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987) and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988).
And Diane Keaton is glowing as George’s understanding wife and mother of his children. At times, movie stoops to playing Mother Smarter Than Father, and George is incessantly put upon by many of the characters, but the movie redeems itself with George’s surfeit of poignancy, that he drivels all over us at regular introspective intervals. Rather than make us vomit, it hits home all the psychological and pragmatic reasons a father holds so tight to his daughter.
When daughter Annie (beautiful newcomer Kimberly Williams) announces at the dinner table her intentions to marry a man she met in Rome, all that George sees is his five-year-old girl blathering it. (A very funny jolt; a callback to Tracy’s observation that “while she was talking all I could think of was a little girl in brown pigtails and dirty overalls…”) Throughout the film, George makes comments about being “replaced,” about not being needed or heeded any more, but it all boils down to feeling like he has lost his daughter’s love. And that’s another welcome departure from WARCs: we don’t feel – and we don’t need to feel – any chemistry between the two people who are actually getting married! All our hopes rest on the chemistry between the father and daughter.
In the final moments, as Annie and her new husband (George Newbern) are leaving the reception, George has reconciled his protective paternal love with his desire for her to feel that same love towards someone else. And we feel his sincerity. If Steve Martin can sell this story to us childless nullifidians, imagine how he’s making those fathers in the audience weep like repentant sinners.
Steve Martin’s BFF, the often less-than-funny Martin Short raises his game here to above adequate as the ambiguously-Euro wedding planner Franck (pronounced “Fronk”) who, along with assistant B.D. Wong, debilitates the English language in his quest to provide the best wedding ever for Annie. (“Ahhh, Mahsta Bonks and Missus Bonks and the lofflay bride!”)
The groom’s parents were merely devices for some farcical Steve Martin moments with Dobermans and falling into pools.
The annoying side of this film is how the father of the bride – George – is treated like a bottomless piggy bank. He is literally extorted by every contractor and vendor involved – on the threat that if he doesn’t buy what the wife and daughter want for the wedding they will pout a lot. And it must be nice to be so affluent that when obscene monies are changing hands – amounts that would bankrupt most of us for life – your worst reaction is to pull a funny face. And all for the sake of one of the biggest social scams since civilization went civil – a wedding, which is nothing but a goddam party, just with a white dress and a state contract.
Maybe it’s a sign of the changing times, but remember when George’s social standing would have been called middle class? There is no such class in America in 2011; George would now be termed “upper middle class” or just upper class.
How nice marriage can be when you can afford swans and a $10,000 cake; when everyone is painfully white and has a job that actually pays the bills; in a giant house in suburbia with a picket fence, a picturesque, tree-lined street and a dog trained not to thigh-hump anyone.
So now the fathers are all weeping for a totally different reason…