[12 March 2010]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
A goat on viagra, humping Forest Whitaker. In an ideal world this idea would have been shot down as soon as someone uttered it. No writer would have conjured it, no studio would have financed it, no director would have imagined how to shoot it. And certainly, Forest Whitaker would never, ever have considered it.
It is, of course, a profoundly un-ideal world that has given us Our Family Wedding, the movie in which this scene serves as an antic and disturbing not-quite-climax. The plot leading to this scene sets up Oscar-winner Whitaker as Brad Boyd, a wealthy, velvet-voiced L.A. area DJ whose son Marcus (Lance Gross), comes home to announce that he is not only is he joining Doctors Without Borders in Laos, but he is also getting married. Brad is startled to hear all this, but actually horrified to learn that Marcus’ intended is Lucia Ramirez (American Ferrera).
Neither Marc nor Lucia could have known, of course, that Brad has had a bad encounter with her dad, Miguel (Carlos Mencia), who towed his Jaguar (Miguel being the owner of a towing company). You, however, are subjected to this depressing scene: while the children are en route to California from New York (where he has finished med school and she has dropped out of Columbia Law to teach underprivileged kids), the fathers are yelling and flailing on the street, not knowing that they will meet again that evening at a fancy restaurant , where they proceed to shout and strut some more.
Oh dear, oh dear, however can this standoff be resolved?
Per formula, the sides in Rick Famuyiwa’s movie are drawn broadly. Miguel’s wife, Sonia (Dian-Maria Riva), is plainly more rational than her husband, and Brad is also blessed with a sane woman friend, his lawyer Angela (Regina King, again terrific against major odds), who helped to raise Marcus (hence the photos of her at his college graduation and other childhood highlights). But as hard as the women try to keep the men bearable, you have to wonder what they’re doing in the same rooms with these insistent neanderthals. Apparently incapable of intelligent or believable behavior, Brad and Miguel resolutely choose to embarrass or otherwise emotionally abuse their kids and their companions. Once they meet so very cute on that street, the dads are apparently doomed to resent and reject each other until… well, until the goat incident unites them.
Previous to this wholly unsatisfying ending, which cannot possibly come fast enough, the film lumbers through a series of disconnected gag scenes—selecting a wedding dress, being arrested (repeatedly), meeting the preposterously stereotyped Mexican grandmother (Lupe Ontiveros), hanging with Brad’s boys (Charlie Murphy as a self-professed player and Taye Diggs as a pussy-whipped, pink-polo-shirted hubby), and deciding on the seating arrangement (a sequence that involves fantasy scenarios, where gansgters are seated with Ramparts cops and socially backwards cretins with church ladies).
And don’t forget the softball game, during which egos and other body parts are inevitably bruised. These episodes don’t bring anyone closer to mutual understanding, or grant you increasing sympathy or insight into their choices. When Brad and Angela spend a night together, they’re not actually a couple yet: he has a few more lessons to learn, namely, that serially bedding lithe white girls is not so fulfilling as he believes. The question that remains unanswered is why Angela puts up with any of it.
But hers is not to wonder why. That falls to Lucia and Marcus, who have to ask some predictable questions about their own decisions. Gee, maybe Brad’s lifelong stance against marriage is right, or hey, what if lying to your parents (by omission, at least) isn’t such a good strategy to earn trust and build a future, or really, who cares if these crazy kids ever get their stories straight?
Their efforts to do so are premised on the titular notion, that the marriage is the couple’s, but the wedding belongs to the families. That this idea of “our” is further reduced to the fathers’ creates a very narrow, irritating, and unfunny vision of clashing “cultures.” When Miguel comes up with a couple of Mexican songs for the ceremony, Brad insists there is also a “Negro National Black Song,” one that must also be performed, along with the broom-jumping, of course. Sonia and Angela roll their eyes, the kids suffer mightily, and you find yourself missing Bernie Mac. A lot.