Father Of The Bride

1991, Movie, PG, 105 mins

Review

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The husband-and-wife team of Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers have shrewdly exploited the middle-aged descent of post-WWII baby boomers by casting Steve Martin and Diane Keaton as well-heeled establishment parents in their slightly retooled version of FATHER OF THE BRIDE, Vincente Minnelli's 1950 hit, with the net result of allowing the graying fortysomething generation to watch themselves become their own parents on-screen.

George Banks (Martin) is an upper-middle-class businessman who lives in a big house in Los Angeles with his wife Nina (Keaton), who also runs a small business enterprise (although what that enterprise might be is never explained in the film). Along with their young son, Matty (Kieran Culkin), they eagerly await the return of their daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams) from a post-college trip to Europe. Upon her arrival, she reveals that she is engaged to be married to Bryan MacKenzie (George Newbern), a top-notch communications analyst. While Nina is excited for her, George is immediately resentful of Bryan taking away his daughter. After meeting Bryan, however, George comes to like him, but feels intimidated by his rich parents, whom George and Nina visit in their Beverly Hills mansion where George is chased by the MacKenzie's dobermans and falls into their swimming pool.

Before long, George finds himself consumed with Annie's wedding, which her parents plan to hold in their own home, and sees himself sinking into a financial hole, particularly with the elaborate arrangements planned by their wedding consultant, Franck Eggelhoffer (Martin Short). On the day of the wedding, George becomes involved with making sure all the preparations succeed and he manages to keep missing his daughter in the crowded home. When he finally sees Annie, she is, of course, a radiant bride. The newlyweds depart for their honeymoon and George is dejected when he fails to catch up with his daughter to kiss her goodbye. But Annie calls her father on the telephone and tells him she loves him and he is wistfully happy. Hanging up the telephone, George and Nina dance alone in the empty house to their favorite record.

FATHER OF THE BRIDE is a harmless time killer, its success stemming from fond memories of the Minnelli film and our mental juxtaposition of Steve Martin and Diane Keaton with Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett. Like Bennett in the original film, Keaton is little more than a piece of the furniture. Her comedic talents totally wasted in a dead-end part, Keaton resorts to rolling her eyes, pouting and mugging to make her presence felt. Nor does newcomer Kimberly Williams hold the screen as Elizabeth Taylor did in the original; few were as luminous, then or now, as Taylor at the peak of her beauty.

The film belongs to Steve Martin, whose crisp, almost bitter delivery, although frequently off-putting, manages to put an edge to a film that, without him, would be mush. His monotone complaints keep us at a slight distance from the film, much in the same manner as Tracy's voiceovers in the original, permitting the audience to digest more easily its complacent, smug atmosphere. Of course, this same charge can be leveled at the earlier film, scripted by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, in which the upper-middle-class is seen through the prism of the MGM dream factory. Still, Minnelli managed to inject a dark undercurrent to the proceedings--Tracy's inadequacies betrayed by his boozing and surrealistic fantasies--that is totally absent here. Martin's cutting delivery is the only clue that all is not perfect in la-la land. Otherwise, the Banks's world is failure-proof, where all parent-child tensions can be resolved in a one-on-one basketball game and George Banks can visualize his daughter greeting him from the second floor landing of their home at ages three, seven and twenty-one, a Kodak commercial of real life.

In spite of the film's banality and ephemerality, it will likely strike a chord with middle-aged baby boomers, whose only frame of reference during the last 30 years has so often been movies, music and TV. For many of them, FATHER OF THE BRIDE offers immediate nostalgia; it creates a yearning for a contemporary lifestyle imbued with the wholesome values and graciousness of the 1950s, never mind that it was all a fantasy even then. For many rapidly graying individuals, the past four decades have seen wars, assassinations, economic collapse and little to remember fondly except the sweetly idealized vision of American life typified by "Father Knows Best," "Leave It To Beaver" and other cherished totems of popular culture.

Who knows, the 1991 FATHER OF THE BRIDE may well be the first in a series of fondly remembered films for baby boomers when they hit the nursing homes. For others seeking reappraisal and revisionism, there is always Oliver Stone. leave a comment

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