[28 May 2012]
Comedies with bountiful heart are rare and with good reason. A film that “pulls on your heartstrings” while giving you “belly laughs” requires a complex dualism. The dramatic moments can turn out too syrupy and the comedic moments either too forced or overpowering. The 1991 Steve Martin vehicle, Father of the Bride, is full of said ‘heart’ and just enough of that “feel-good laughter”. Just released on a “20th Edition” Blu-ray Disc that also includes 1995’s Father of the Bride Part II, it holds up really well two decades later, without feeling particularly dated like so many comedies do.
In The Father of the Bride, Steve Martin and Diane Keaton play George and Nina Banks whose only daughter, Annie, played by Kimberly Williams, comes home from Europe and announces that she is engaged to be married. George goes a little crazy since he doesn’t want to acknowledge that his little girl is no longer a little girl. Plus, in addition to the thoughts of losing his daughter, he’s stressing over the expense and headache of planning a wedding.
The movie is a remake of a classic 1950 film that starred the top-notch Spencer Tracy at his disgruntled comedic best and also the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. Remaking a beloved Academy Award-nominated film is usually a recipe for disaster but director Charles Shyer made it work with top-notch casting. Though it’s different enough from the earlier MGM film of the same name, its plot turns are predictable but in a comforting sort of way. The material is updated for a modern audience, without ruining the emotional core that drove the comedy in the original film.
It’s not particularly ambitious, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It tells a story that you can relate to. The dilemma of planning a wedding is so common to most people. It’s a part of every culture, which in part explains the movie’s success. Father of the Bride is sweet, too sweet at times, but it works, thanks to winning performances.
Martin is especially warm and emotive in one of his least zany roles. Sure, he freaks out at the price of the wedding cake or at the live swans the decorator has placed on his lawn, but his breaking heart rationalizes it. He’s a man afraid of change, who’s admirably over-committed to his role as a father. When released, George Banks was perhaps Martin’s most human role to date, far from his work in The Jerk, and most comparable to his work in Parenthood. The role helped Martin reinvent his image from that wild and crazy guy on Saturday Night Live. He’s entirely likable even during his meltdowns. It’s nothing short of touching to see Martin deal with not being ready for his cherished daughter to tie the knot.
Keaton and Williams are also both easily charming as the women in George’s life. In Williams’ feature debut, she’s spirited, wholesome and genuine. It’s a shame she hasn’t been as endearing on screen since then. Keaton is likable as always but has little to do here other than smile and remind her husband that everything will be okay.
Annie’s fiancé Bryan is easily a foil for Steven Martin’s character. He’s a smiley, faultless character, but one can understand why George is so paranoid about his daughter’s romance. The film doesn’t show us anything about the guy that matters; he’s exceedingly one-dimensional and is even mostly absent from the sequel.
Martin Short takes the cake as the flamboyant wedding planner Franck. He’s eccentric to the core with his mixed bag of indecipherable, strange Eastern European accents and his blissfully animated expressions. Everything about his character, especially his perplexing pronunciation that no one can understand, is a successful running joke.
Every character is believable, even Franck, even if some scenes, like George’s odd tirade about hot dog buns in the grocery store, aren’t.
It should be said that Martin still gets his slapstick Chaplin moments in when being chased by dogs into a pool while visiting the parents of the groom. Mostly though, he’s ranting and overreacting. The laugh-out-loud moments are few and far between, but you’ll be smiling almost the entire time. George’s emotions are triggered by major life changes that many parents and children will relate to. Martin delivers lot of voice-over narration, but it helps you enjoy and emphasize with the thoughts of the character.
That narration, along with the stirring score by Alan Silvestri, also helps the tender moments leave an unexpected lump in your throat. You see, there are plenty of heart to heart talks that are idealized but rather remarkable. When George tells his daughter, after a late night conversation during a rare California snowfall, “I know I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life,” it’s a beautiful, fanciful snapshot of a true-to-life moment. The movie remains successful because sentimental scenes like this one join forces with the lighthearted humor to make the film enjoyable for anyone who’s grown up and watched someone they love grow up.
Comedy is not like fine wine, or a glass of wedding champagne, it rarely ages well. However, the first film hasn’t lost its magic.
Even the sequel, Father of the Bride Part II remains very watchable on this Blu-ray edition. From the first frame, it tries to follow the successful formula of the first film. There are plenty of weepy flashbacks, heartfelt conversations, and funny freak-outs. The movie even opens in the same way at the 1991 film, with George sitting in the same chair, talking to the camera in the same insightful way.
In the second film, George finds out going to be a father and a grandfather at the same time, and he suffers through a heck of a midlife crisis. So, as expected, George rants a lot and is especially foppish. Luckily, he’s possibly at his comedic finest when he’s frustrated.
The entire cast returned for Father of the Bride Part II, which guaranteed brilliant chemistry all-around. Franck even inexplicably returns to decorate the Banks’ nursery. Thankfully, hilarity always ensues when Martin and Short are on screen together.
The sequel’s an absurdly improbable, extremely predictable ride but one that’s still moderately entertaining because of the talented cast. Even so, there’s a lot that goes wrong with this one though. It tries too hard to create emotional moments and dwells in its schmaltziness. Martin’s character even acknowledges it at one point saying, “Come on, no more tears!” Additionally, Eugene Levy’s performance as the cold, rich Middle Easterner that buys the Banks’ house is nothing short of an offensive ethnic stereotype.
Still, the flick’s worth watching just to see Martin briefly dye his trademark gray locks during the peak of George’s identity crisis. In actuality, the film picks up the sincerity and humor in last half an hour. Martin carries the strong ending with his physical comedy while George is on powerful sleeping pills and with his amiable sensitivity during the tenderness of the big parallel delivery scenes.
Then, out of nowhere, Jane Adams shows up as the obstetrician in the movie’s most vital moments and she is impeccable. She adds humanity, weight, and soul through her small role that lifts to movie to another place completely. Seeing Martin with a newborn daughter in one arm and his grandson in the other provides enough sincere heart to remind viewers that both movies are not as much about laughs as they are the beautiful, unforgettable moments of life. There are indeed fleeting moments when life feels like things can’t get any better, and for all the movie does wrong, the conclusion of Father of the Bride Part II does capture that feeling quite well.
Both PG-rated films have a reputation for being sappy, and rightfully so, but viewers that take time to rediscover either will be pleased with humor that’s surprisingly uplifting and identifiable.
The Blu-ray looks goodm but there’s obviously no cinematography or effects here that would require fans of either film to upgrade from their DVD to high definition. The special features are adequate, but nothing tremendously special. In fact, it seems all the extras on this Blu-ray edition were already available on the films’ DVDs. “Invitation to the Father of the Bride” is a ten-minute making-of featurette that is both mildly informative and mildly entertaining. The commentary with co-writer and director Charles Shyer is nostalgic more than insightful as he claimed he hadn’t seen the film in more than a decade. It’s like listening to anecdotes from a father watching home movies for the first time in years.
The best bonus included is a five-minute featurette with Martin and Short “interviewing” each other. For example, Martin joking tells Short, “The scenes between you and me, father-daughter, I think are really beautiful.” Seeing the two comic greats improvising complete nonsense about the filming process, trying to make one another laugh, will give as many hearty laughs as the film itself. Nonetheless, for a 20th anniversary Blu-ray edition, you would expect more extras as an anniversary gift.