Posts Tagged ‘Father of the Bride’


A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro

When Judi and I were preparing for our own wedding, we were assured by everybody, EVERYBODY, that we *needed* to see MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. It was not just painted as a must-see, it was painted as the most …universal, most heartwarming, most resonant movie about a wedding ever. (To people who, I guess, had not seen the original FATHER OF THE BRIDE.)

I was told this by my parents. I was told this by my sister. I was told this by my friends. I was told this by my co-workers. Judi heard it from her own family. She heard it from her co-workers.

We missed the film in the theatres, thus increasing the pressure, and then with one thing or another took months to rent a copy on DVD. And we finally did.

Half an hour into the movie, we looked at each other and asked, mutually, “Have you laughed yet?”

The two of us found the entire enterprise so empty, so banal, that we were deeply, deeply embarrassed for it. It wasn’t that it failed to resonate with our current experiences; it was that it failed to resonate with them at any level deeper than the most superficial observations by the most tiresome distant aunt. There was not a single element in the love story that failed to function at any level other than wish fulfillment and not a single element regarding the wedding that failed to transcend the banal. At the time, I was downright depressed that audiences had embraced it with such excessive enthusiasm; together with LEGALLY BLONDE, another movie that everybody told us we *had* to see, and that struck us both as deeply empty, it kind of proved to me that the majority of people prefer movies that wash over them like background music, without challenging them or altering them at all.

(And my future wife’s negative reaction to both films served as further proof that we were right for one another.)

In the end, it contributed to our lives only in that our reception’s lightly science-fictional theme got the day dubbed Our Big Fat Geek Wedding.

So yeah, that’s my advance reaction to this summer’s Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts movie, LARRY CROWNE. Hanks as writer is an unknown quantity to me, but I am not rushing out to see anything written by Nia Vardalos.

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A movie with a sequel with a remake that had a sequel remake

 

 

First Commentary by Adam-Troy Castro

 Father Of the Bride (1950). Directed by Vincente Minelli. Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from the novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Bennett. 92 minutes. ***

Father’s Little Dividend. (1951). Directed by Vincente Minelli.  Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from the characters created by Edward Streeter. Starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Bennett. 82 minutes. ***.

Father of the Bride (1991). Directed by Charles Shyer. Written by Nancy Myers and Charles Shyer, from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and  Albert Hackett and novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short. 105 minutes. ** 1/2

Father Of the Bride Part Two (1995). Directed by Charles Shyer. Written by Nancy Myers and Charles Shyer, from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hacker and novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short. 106 minutes. ** 1/2

This one’s a bit convoluted, we’re afraid. A movie with a sequel that was remade that had a sequel that was itself a remake of the first movie’s sequel, although by then fidelity to the original story was limited to the sheer phenomenon of human reproduction. It is also an interesting cultural phenomenon for its own sake, as it presents snapshots of the American family – or at least the way the American family wanted to see itself – at two different points in history, forty years apart.

The originals came from a time where it was polite to pretend on screen that all married couples slept in twin beds, and where suits and ties were so much the official uniform of the American male that Spencer Tracy’s character even bothers to get dressed up while rushing to the hospital in the middle of the night, to attend his first grandchild’s birth. (Imagine a modern grandfather donning more than a comfortable pullover and a pair of jeans for the same occasion, and it’s likely that you’d consider him ridiculously anal.)

The 1990s versions presented a different kind of froth entirely, of the sort all-too-common in its particular era of moviemaking: in that its family seems not just comfortable but ridiculously well-off, and money isn’t even a problem for the young couple, since the future groom and son-in-law is a “consultant” whose services command such a high price that, we’re told, no company can possibly afford his services on a permanent basis.  (And Steve Martin’s character still grumps that he’s not good enough for his daughter.) Indeed, it is hard to watch the scenes where he appears, and not remember another Spencer Tracy uncomfortable-engagement movie, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1968),  which brought race into the equation and where the black man who wants to marry Tracy’s daughter is not just a thoroughly respectable fella but a doctor and a world-class  philantropist and an important man and possibly a great one and in all ways so perfect and iconic and perfect and Poitier that, race aside, there is absolutely no remaining room to object to him. Just as that movie would have been a little bit better, a little less like a gift-wrapped sermon, had there been some aspect of the Poitier character  that rendered him a little less of a sterling catch, the Steve Martin Father Of The Bride would have been better if the young man had possessed some attribute, aside from a penis and designs on Daddy’s little girl, that gave Martin’s character some greater reason to be ambivalent about him. Or maybe that’s part of the joke.

Beyond that, there is little in any of these four films worth waxing eloquent about at any real length. They are sitcoms; fun sitcoms and for the most part resonant sitcoms, in that they deal with life’s most important passages and for the most part do so honestly, inserting complications whenever the story needs to be prolonged. In all four films the chief dramatic concern is not how the daughter feels about any of these tremendous changes in her life, but about how her father George deals with them; how he resents the alteration in the universe he knows and comes only slowly to the realization that it’s a good thing. All four films benefit from the presence of a leading man with a special talent for a slow burn.

Father Of the Bride (1950), Father’s Little Dividend (1951)

The chief treasure of this one is Spencer Tracy, long regarded one of the all-time great American film actors, here ably supported by the luminous Elizabeth Taylor as his daughter.  She, however, is not so much playing a character as a MacGuffin: the reason for her father to go so crazy, and to wax rhapsodic with voice-over speeches like, “Who giveth this woman? “This woman.” But she’s not a woman. She’s still a child. And she’s leaving us. What’s it going to be like to come home and not find her? Not to hear her voice calling “Hi, Pops” as I come in? I suddenly realized what I was doing. I was giving up Kay. Something inside me began to hurt. “ It is that, the kernel of human truth, that gives the emotions their weight, and the comedy the resonance of human truth, even when the screenplay is contorting itself into knots to keep the story going; i.e. the rather bloodless crises in the relationship of Kay and her beau, that arrive at key moments in both the first and second films.

Much of the comedy in the first film comes from Tracy’s realization that the wedding he’s expected to pay for has spiraled out of control and the 140-guest relatively intimate occasion he’s hoped for has become a 240-guest extravaganza. But this is not a mere “Money Pit” situation. The increasing size of the occasion is not only an insult to his pocketbook but also an external manifestation of his realization that he’s no longer in control, period. Much of the comedy in the second film comes from his determination to treat the birth of his grandchild as not such a big deal, even as the other grandparents and his wife twist his world out of all recognition in preparation for its arrival.

The one scene we’ll point to in the original is the hidden gem of a dream sequence, which afflicts Tracy on the night before the wedding and which the apotheosis of all anxiety dreams centered on social occasions. In it, Tracy cannot seem to get down the aisle to join his daughter. The floor rebels under his feet, the clothes fall to pieces on his body, and the assembled guests all stare at him with aghast mortification, while he struggles in vain. Who has not experienced a phantasm like this, on the night before a big day? And how perfect is it, that upon waking, he has to be the source of comfort and confidence for his daughter, who is also suffering the pre wedding day jitters?

The one scene we’ll point to in the somewhat more awkward sequel is the climactic crisis, in which the less-than-doting grandfather misplaces the baby and after a suitable interval of panic finds him, and finally bonds with him as a result. Need it be said that the disappearance of a child, due to a grandfather’s momentary negligence, does not play exactly the same way today?

Father Of the Bride (1991), Father Of the Bride Part Two (1995)

Respect for what came before led this viewer to scorn the first of these films in 1991, but let’s be honest: it plays the same notes, and it plays them in pretty much the same way. See, for instance, this voice-over quote from the first film of this incarnation, where Steve Martin expresses the same thoughts Spencer Tracy had forty years before. “Who presents this woman? This woman? But she’s not a woman. She’s just a kid. And she’s leaving us. I realized at that moment that I was never going to come home again and see Annie at the top of the stairs. Never going to see her again at our breakfast table in her nightgown and socks. I suddenly realized what was happening. Annie was all grown up and was leaving us, and something inside began to hurt.”

Steve Martin is as good at a slow burn as Spencer Tracy ever was, and while, as we said before,  the film bends excessively backward to make the prospective and then actual son-in-law the absolute best catch in the history of the universe, it’s nice that some lip service is given to daughter Kay also being an accomplished professional herself. As much as she is expected to support her husband in his career, he will also be expected to support her, in hers. It may be lip service, but it’s also a clear illustration of the changes this sorry old world has seen since 1950, and is not at all a bad thing. In this spirit, I actually like the first film’s pre-marital crisis, which has to do with the “uneasy sexual politics” of buying your bride-to-be a blender as present; after all, anybody who’s ever been in a relationship has also had the well-meaning gesture given the worst possible interpretation at the worst possible moment, and it’s more antidote to any narrative subtext presenting Kay as just a commodity to be given away.

Regarding Father Of the Bride Part Two, we must say: Part Two? Really? You couldn’t do any better than Part Two? You couldn’t figure out some other way to let your audience know that this was a sequel to a remake and a remake of the sequel? Do you really think the audience is that stupid? Granted that Diane Keaton’s first major role in the Godfather movies also involved a “Part Two,” we must express, and express again, our growing disdain with sequels that cannot even be bothered to provide the audience with some form of new title.

The innovation of Part Two, such as it is,  is contriving for Diane Keaton’s fifty-year-old Nina Banks to get pregnant at pretty much exactly the same time that her daughter Kay does. This pushes biological plausibility, but is not outside the realm of human experience, and doubles down on George’s anxiety as the twin blessed occasions approach.

Three things need to be noted about this. First, there is a law, pretty much inviolable, in movie comedies where more than one woman is pregnant: they must always go into labor at the same time, and if possible give birth mere minutes part. That’s a given. and anybody watching this movie who fails to expect it has never seen a movie before.

Second, the movie goes to extravagant and downright embarrassing lengths explaining just how George and  Nina came to conceive the child, treating their lovemaking session as an unusual and surprising development so remarkable that they experience jaw-dropping epiphany of the “you mean, that night…” sort,  when Nina’s pregnancy comes to light, weeks later. Really. The movie comes within a gnat’s eyelash of actively apologizing for any implication that a couple this old might regularly have sex; it certainly treats the occasion as a somewhat embarrassing fluke.

Third, while the sentiment in a sitcom this contrived is certainly easy for someone of sufficiently cynical bent to mock, this viewer falls apart, absolutely falls apart, when both Nina and Kay have been taken away to have their babies, and George bares his heart to the obstetrician, saying, “These women are my life.” There is no apologizing for this.

As for Martin Short’s flamboyant, english-mangling wedding planner, Franck Eggelhoffer, who gets all the outrageous moments in both films: you might find him painful, or you might find him hilarious. I ‘m staying out of it.

The Vows

The originals: dated classics, with a splendid lead performance by Spencer Tracy. The remakes: not quite as good, but not as inferior to the Tracy version as many seem to think.

And now, the wife submits her catering budget…

*

Second Commentary by Judi B. Castro

 Father Of the Bride (1950). Directed by Vincente Minelli. Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from the novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Bennett. 92 minutes. ***

Father’s Little Dividend. (1951). Directed by Vincente Minelli.  Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from the characters created by Edward Streeter. Starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Bennett. 82 minutes. ***.

Father of the Bride (1991). Directed by Charles Shyer. Written by Nancy Myers and Charles Shyer, from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and  Albert Hackett and novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short. 105 minutes. ** 1/2

Father Of the Bride Part Two (1995). Directed by Charles Shyer. Written by Nancy Myers and Charles Shyer, from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hacker and novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short. 106 minutes. ** 1/2

The greatest compliment I can lend to any film is that I can see a reflection of my life in in its situations and characters. 

This having been said I was not even a wisp of a dream to either of my parents in 1950/1951 and by 1991 they were resigned that I would never marry(oops fooled them). Yet somehow, Father of the Bride (both versions) seemed to play on an unending mindloop throughout 2002 and the year of wedding over-planning. (I challenge all of you to plan a traditional Jewish wedding, outdoors on Christmas Day with a Science Fiction theme that stays under budget!)  Oh: and did I include the fact that I was recovering from major surgery and am highly allergic to many foods and inhalants, especially flowers?  Compare that to the challenges faced in the films and you may begin to see why I hold both films close.

While the earlier films are charming but dated, they reflected much of my parents’s views of life, parenting and the responsibilities of the poor bride’s parents.  The 90’s era films were more frenetic.  The runabout pacing giving less chance for character, but more for Steve Martin fumbling at being dad.  Both Fathers are there for the traditional role of open wallet/shut mouth.  My question, if the 90’s film were such an update, why didn’t daddy’s little angel just move in with the guy?  Why the need for the overwrought garden wedding?  I guess much like my case, it was someone’s dream. (Let Adam tell you my original plans for our marriage).

In the sequels we see the difference in attitudes towards pregnancy over a 40 year span.  In the 1951 film mommy to be is pushed into a larger home, help is volunteered and parties are thrown.  She is not to get overworked, stressed or upset, all of which she does so daddy can come to her rescue.  In the 90’s ,both mother and daughter are going through the joys together.  We see them shopping, comparing notes and harassing their husbands into submission.  The old guy (Martin) nearly collapses under it all and the young father to be heads out assured that all will be taken care of.  Huh?  Of course both must deliver within minutes of each other or the “comedy” falls short.  Huh? again.  What was wrong with the grandparents becoming grandparents?  When my sister had her children, we all crowded out the waiting room.  2 sets of prospective grands, one set of great aunt/uncle, 2 aunts and 2 uncles all to be.  Wouldn’t that scene have been enough fodder for the film?

And of course, they had to add the teary ending to remind you how funny everything was before this point.  PUHLEEZE!

That being said.  I actually enjoy watching the Martin films.  He and Diane Keaton are fun even in the implausible sequel.  But no one can replace ultra father(even without the priest collar) Spencer Tracy.  He made me believe that he was Elizabeth Taylor’s dad  for both films, His rough gruff 50’s guy is just like my own Pop: loud when warranted and soft when needed, just like these films.