The first time I saw the 1991 remake of “Father of the Bride” with Steve Martin, I had my doubts going in. Memories of the original, 1950, Vincente Minnelli movie with Spencer Tracy as the flustered parent of bride-to-be Elizabeth Taylor still lingered in my mind. It had been a delightful little romp, and remakes are not always up to the task of equalling their predecessors. But Martin handles the newer film comfortably and makes it almost as charming and funny as the first one. Despite some a few maudlin moments, it made me smile.
The story recounts not only the difficulties of giving up a daughter but the comic frustrations of stage managing a huge, elaborate, and very expensive wedding ceremony and reception. I dunno. I rather suspect these things are women’s doings. I’ve never known a man who wouldn’t have rather kept it quick, quiet, and simple. And given the high rate of divorce in this country, it’s a wonder more parents have not outright disowned their kids after all the time and expense involved.
My own wedding was a small family affair at my wife’s sister’s house. That was thirty-four years ago, and it doesn’t seem to have done us any harm. My ideal wedding, however, was my old college roommate’s. It was conducted in a San Francisco judge’s chambers at City Hall; I was the best man/witness. The three of us went in, the judge said a few words, we signed some papers, and we left. Five minutes tops. Then we walked down the street and had dinner at a local restaurant, the couple left on their honeymoon, and I went home.
But for most folks, the traditional church wedding and reception is the required fashion, and the bride’s father is expected to foot the bill. Martin plays the old Tracy part, that of the discombobulated dad, George Banks. Tracy seemed like more like a dad to me and Martin more like a comedian, but that’s no fault of Martin, who gives it a good try. His best moment comes when his twenty-two year old daughter in the movie announces by surprise that she’s getting married, and the Martin appears awestruck and horrified simultaneously. The look is priceless.
Martin is surrounded by a capable cast headed by Diane Keaton as the mother, Nina Banks; Kimberly Williams as the bride-to-be, Annie Banks; George Newbern as the groom, Bryan MacKenzie; Kieran Culkin as Annie’s younger brother, Matty; and Eugene Levy in a cameo as a band singer. But it’s really Steve Martin’s show, and the only one who comes close to upstaging him is Martin Short as Franck Eggelhoffer, an over-the-top “wedding coordinator.” Short’s almost impenetrable accent (Russian? French? German? Shortvian?) is a take on Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, and in the few scenes he’s in, Short steals every one.
As in the earlier movie version, the father narrates the story in flashback, going back six months to when it all began with the wedding announcement. But even more than before, we get an idyllic, prototypical, picture-perfect fifties sitcom family, complete with a father who owns his own shoe manufacturing business (“Side Kicks”); a two-story white colonial house with white picket fence; a small, friendly, hometown, suburban community; and a young couple who are supremely beautiful, bright, well-educated, well-employed people. It’s “Leave It To Ozzie and Donna Know Best” country.
When George learns of his daughter’s impending marriage, he’s disconsolate. He can’t believe his little girl is going away forever. He feels like one of his own discontinued shoes. But once he gets over it and decides he’s got to foot the bill for the affair, things only get worse. The wedding reception is going to cost a fortune, and he’s even expected to pay for the groom’s relatives coming over from Denmark. But, heck, your daughter only gets married once, right? Yeah, well….
Most of the film is laid-back, balmy, and engaging, but there are other moments that attempt to duplicate the frenetic spirit of old thirties screwball comedies. A reference to “Bringing Up Baby” is a clue; Martin indulging in slapstick and falling into his in-laws’ swimming pool, then eventually winding up in jail are more such examples.
The old pop songs (“My Girl,” “The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “My Girl,” etc.) are a little corny, and a couple of sequences verge on the self-consciously sentimental, but mostly “Father of the Bride” is a friendly and familiar romp. One could do worse.
The picture has been transferred to disc in an anamorphic widescreen ratio that measures very close to its theatrical-exhibition size of 1.85:1. Yet despite the use of a relatively high bit rate, the image quality is soft and very slightly blurred. There is a golden glow over many of the scenes, so I assume it was all meant to impart a fairy-tale atmosphere to the film. Colors are deep and vivid, if not always perfectly natural, with facial tones, especially, a bit too dark. Grain is generally a non factor except in certain scenes where it appears to come and go.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix does little for the rear channels beyond enhancing a touch of musical ambiance, and there remains a fairly narrow front-channel spread, so I’m not sure exactly what was done to improve things. Certainly, the sound is smooth, clean, and quiet, and the all-important midrange is most realistic and easy on the ears. Appropriate to the movie, the audio track is competent without being in any way flamboyant; it does not draw attention to itself.
I’m afraid I couldn’t get too interested in the few bonus items on the disc. There’s a new audio commentary with cowriter and director Charles Shyer (“Irreconcilable Differences,” “I Love Trouble,” “Alfie”) that is pleasant enough; a ten-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, “An Invitation to Father of the Bride,” that is mostly promotional; and a five-minute bit where “Steve Martin & Martin Short Interview Each Other” that is cute. In addition, we get Sneak Peeks at several other Buena Vista titles; a mere fifteen scene selections, with a chapter insert; English and French spoken languages; and English captions for the hearing impaired. It doesn’t appear to me that there’s a very extensive lineup of extras to justify the designation “15th Anniversary Special Edition,” but like the film the extras are at least inoffensive.
This 1991 update of “Father of the Bride” may not be quite as touching or as funny as the older version, but it is still lighthearted, gentle, sweet, frothy fun. While it tries too hard at times to be poignant and meaningful, overall it remains a heartwarming reminder of Hollywood’s earlier days of happily-ever-after endings. Both films, old and new, are charmers, this new one was followed up by an equally successful sequel, “Father of the Bride Part II” (1995), which utilized almost the identical cast.