“The old movie doesn’t hold up all that well. [Billy Wilder said] comedy is not like fine wine; it doesn’t age all that well. Often times, that’s true.” Charles Shyer is referring to the original Father of the Bride (1950), but he also explains the failure of his own version, released in 1991. Now available as a 15th Anniversary Edition DVD (featuring interviews with stars Martin Short and Steve Martin), this Father of the Bride has a few adorable moments. But it’s a little bit embarrassing to hear Shyer rave on about his apparent success at “[mixing] emotion and comedy” in a film so lacking in both.
It’s not that Shyer’s film isn’t funny. It’s just not funny the way he thinks it is. He says it is grounded in recognizable experience, whether it’s planning a wedding, losing a daughter to wedlock, meeting the in-laws, or resisting inevitable family separations. Here, though, much of the resulting sentiment is diluted because we never believe the relationship between dad and daughter.
Dad is George Banks (Martin), a shoemaker from San Marino with a nice house, a nice wife (Nina, played by Diane Keaton), and two cute kids, Annie (Kimberly Williams) and Matty (Kieran Culkin). All is perfect in George’s life until Annie announces she plans to marry Brian (George Newbern), whom she met on a whirlwind study tour of Rome. George is so unhappy with the idea that he refuses to take part in the wedding preparations and goes out of his way to be difficult.
If George’s fear of losing Annie is valid, the film fails to express this adequately, especially in the lack of development afforded the two women in his life. There’s no evidence of father and daughter’s supposedly great relationship beyond a game of horse early in the film, which features the Temptations’ “My Girl” on the soundtrack. Lazily, the film relies almost entirely on this moment for its rationalization of George’s anxiety.
Lazy, too, is the lack of relationship between Annie and Brian. Just as that basketball game apparently gives the audience all it needs to understand George and Annie, a few hugs and kisses and longing looks do the same for the new couple. George is supposed to sound paranoid, but it’s hard not to empathize with his ranting about the possibility that Brian could show up on America’s Most Wanted. Who the hell is he, after all? Maybe it’s asking too much for a lighthearted comedy to raise any significant questions. But it can’t be asking too much to expect the film to make sense.
Following the ceremony, George undergoes an abrupt change of heart when he sees that Annie and Brian are indeed deliriously happy at their reception. All he wants now is a kiss from the beautiful bride. This, of course, doesn’t happen due to an asinine string of events that cause him to miss out on saying goodbye to Annie before she leaves for her honeymoon. Shyer notes that the film’s climax is “bittersweet,” but there’s nothing sweet in it for George. After so much torment leading up to the big event, he is denied the one thing he most wanted. So what was the point of all that anguish?
Shyer’s commentary offers little in the way of answers, yet it does contain tidbits of interesting chatter, especially concerning the actors. Keaton improvised many of her lines, Short turned into his famous “Franck” character during his time on set, and many of Martin’s suggestions to beef up the film’s physical comedy were implemented. The commentary, though, isn’t the reason to pick up the disc. A surprise five-minute feature of Martin and Short interviewing each other about their experiences on the film almost makes up for the disappointment of the film. The crux of the conversation concerns the ramifications of Shyer’s decision (clearly invented by the interviewees) to have Short play the bride of the film’s title. The guys, so quick and so deadpan, do their utmost to crack each other up with their crazy stories of life on the set. Short breaks Martin with a passing mention of his (fictional) memoir, Halfway There But For You.
Shyer’s right that comedy sometimes ages badly. While Martin’s exasperated dad never gets old, Father of the Bride‘s reliance on slapstick and over-the-top characterizations are long past their sell-by dates.