Friday, September 30, 2011

Let's Review a Movie: Father of the Bride (1991)


I’m taking a look at one of my all time favourite comedy movies.



I should note before we begin that this review will not contain any comparisons to the original 1950 version, because I haven’t seen it.  If get my hands on a copy of that movie I may do a review of it, or a comparison of the two at a later date.

So, looking at this film as its own entity I have to say that this movie starts off really well, and its tone is set nicely during the opening credits.   With the use of Here Comes the Bride mixed in with the film’s soundtrack that lets us know what this film will be about, in case someone didn’t check the title before sitting down to watch it.  We have soft colours, whites and light pinks, soft candlelight; cozy shots of the house as the camera pans over the aftermath of the wedding.  It’s comfortable and the opening talk George Banks gives to the audience makes us comfortable with him, and puts us in a position to understand his feelings and outlook on the whole event.  We are going to be with him for the whole movie after all, while he does several stupid things in fact, and yet we still sympathize with him.

On a technical note I must say that I love the transition between George talking about the storm breaking, his daughter’s wedding, and cutting to the shoe rack at his job.  Nice work by the editing team.  It definitely helps cement the tone further as well because for George, as he describes it, this event was an ordeal for him.  It’s all about letting his daughter really grow-up into a woman and letting that part of his life go, and George is focusing on all the nitpicky details of the wedding so he doesn’t have to deal with what it all really means: a permanent change in his life.  And as George said in his intro and his narrative he’s not a guy who is big on change, and your daughter getting married is one of the biggest changes of all.  We as an audience get to see how difficult this change can be for a parent.

Actually if we had been looking at this film from someone else’s point of view George probably would have been the villain; the stubborn father who is making everybody’s lives miserable by complaining about money, the soon to be son in law, Franck, the in-laws, etc.  We even get a bit of this when Nina and George argue over getting a wedding coordinator.  Then after Annie blows up over the guest list and George finds her with a magazine with tips for planning a wedding on a budget he tries to back off.  It’s then that he realizes that his actions and words were being hurtful, even the things he meant as jokes.  At that point he checks himself and tries to stop being a jerk and just going with the flow.  He starts trying to get more involved with the planning of the wedding, and even trying to have some fun with it when he pulls his old suit out of the attic.  He doesn’t succeed with this new attitude, as we discover with the hilarious hotdog bun and jail scene that follow that decision, but at least he made an effort.  A memo to Hollywood executives and writers, this is how you show a flawed character that is still sympathetic and not have him come off as a jackass!

In fact I still agree with George on some things that he complains about.  Why does everyone ignore the costs of everything?  I mean if Nina and George are agreeing to pay for this shouldn’t they get to set some ceiling on costs?  Yes, there’s something to be said for wanting to give your daughter a beautiful day, and then there’s not getting a second mortgage on your house to supply it.  Why is the bride’s family responsible for bringing over people from the groom’s family as guests?  If the relatives in Denmark can’t make it because of the costs why don’t they just not come?  I can also see why George would feel left out and ignored, and then lash out and overreact when everybody’s attitude seems to be, gives us your wallet and go away.  Of course all he talks about is the cost of the wedding he has nothing else to talk about, because it seems like every decision is being made without his knowledge!  For example when Franck and Howard come over to finalize plans George discovers that there are already plans for remodelling of the house, having swans, and a tulip border that he had no clue about.  He does overact to things like the in-laws by snooping through their bank books, and his flippant attitude with the whole steak pit and BBQ wedding ideas certainly doesn’t endear him to others to want to give him stuff to do with the wedding, but come on.  At least let him do something besides picking out the band singer.  Still when the chips are down, when Annie wants to cancel the wedding after the fight about the blender, George does the right thing and tries to help get the two back together.  At that point he has come, at least part way, I think to where Nina is in viewing the wedding.  As a milestone event in her daughter’s life that she wants to make perfect for her, and she knows Annie moving on to this next stage in her life is a good thing, it means they’ve done their jobs as parents.  Nina sees her daughter as she is now, a woman.  George on the other hand is still working on it, but at least he has realized that his daughter has made a good choice in Bryan.     

On a side note, while the sets look wonderful I want to know who was in charge of making sure the sets were corresponding with their outside and inside looks because that was a real screw up, one of the few this film has.  I mean we see, when Franck and Howard are over to finalize the reception planning, doors in the living that go out to where I presume the backyard is, setting up the George rips his suit gag when they don't open properly, and yet when the outside of the house was seen earlier it clearly showed only windows on that side, and that that was the front of the house not the back!  We also have two sets of stairs that seem to meet at the same point on the second level.  This house has the worst building design since Blanche Devourx’s on The Golden Girls!  

Oh well, while the inside and out set continuity leaves something to be desired the comedy is nicely done throughout this film.  From throw away one liner’s like Franck’s line about the Banks’ house “It’s lovely-we change it all though,” to all the physical comedy with George at the in-laws house when he and Nina go to meet them for breakfast.  (Franck by the way is also a marvellous performance for Martin Short and I honestly wouldn’t have realized that was him were it not for the credits telling me that.) We even get nice little comedic moments during the wedding montage.  My personal favourite being the scene with George’s new suit, George may have to spend a lot of money on things for everybody else, but if he can save money on his own clothes he’s going to.

With the end of the montage and the blender fight we get to third act of the movie and the theme of letting go comes to a head.  We got a bit of it with Nina confronting George in jail and getting him to promise to mellow out, and the blender fight where he comes to see that Bryan is a good match with Annie, but now we close it out fully.  We heard in the opening conversation and narration that George still thinks of Annie as his little girl. To quote him: “I couldn’t wait to see the kid,” and Annie is twenty-two at this point.  Even in the dinner scene George is ready to have everything go back to the way it was before Annie went to Rome, planning family events as if Annie was still fifteen.  I like that this is acknowledged with the montage of George thinking back to Annie growing up and he confirms this during the wedding itself with his emotional line: “I suddenly realized what was happening.  Annie was all grown-up and leaving us, and something inside began to hurt.” Meanwhile while George was reminiscing Annie was out by the basketball court realizing the same thing.  That it really is her last night as a kid, at home in her own room.  Life is going to be forever different after this and that’s hard to deal with sometimes, but we do.  So, Annie gets married.  The whole wedding itself is beautiful, the lighting is soft, the set is gorgeous, the wedding dress is marvellous and the music is appropriately touching; a wonderful job by everyone on the creative team.  The only nitpick I have about is, why do they have the scene with Matt and George right before this practicing the left together right together walk and then have everybody walk right left down the aisle like you would walk down a street? 

Now we get to the final scenes at the reception and I have to say that I have a love hate relationship with this final part of the movie.  Although it contains some of the funniest gags in the film, with the running joke of George’s blue suit, Matthew and Camron driving the cars, and Franck wanting to bribe the police with George’s wallet; it also seems to be convoluted in its need to kick George around.  I mean he doesn’t get to see Annie once during the entire reception and nobody cares?  He’s part of the wedding party is he not?  So how come he isn’t apparently in any of the pictures?  Also I thought the wedding party usually got served first or at least together.  They sit at the same table after all.  He’s the father of the bride, that father daughter dance is important, and doesn’t he get to make a speech too?  Or did the father of the groom take up all that time?  I mean we get one scene where Annie asks Nina where George is, Nina answers that she doesn’t know and that’s it.  Nobody thinks it’s important to go look for him?  To have Franck go get him?  Something? And in retrospect all this actually lends more credit to George’s complaints about the wedding and reception costs when he basically ends up paying for an event he didn’t get to participate in!

Further convolution happens with the pace of the event.  For example they announce dinner and everyone gets in line, with George at the very end, and George is just about to get food when Franck gets him to deal with police, (and how did the police get their cruiser next to the house if the cars are filling the street?  And where exactly were the parking attendants supposed to be putting the cars if they’re already parked so close together on the street you can’t move them?) and then Franck goes back to the tent because the cake is being wheeled out.  So, wait a minute the people at the end of the food line will have been eating for maybe ten minutes at most, and they're already cutting the cake?  This is has got to be the fastest wedding reception in history.  This gets even worse when Annie and Bryan change to go to the honeymoon limo.  Now wedding dresses are usually difficult to take on and off, that’s what the bridesmaids are for.  Yet here Annie and Bryan manage to get out of the dress and suit respectively and get in to plain travel clothes before George makes it across the yard?  Does Annie have the Tardis in her room and didn’t tell anyone?

Still, we end the film on a high note with George getting to say goodbye to Annie over the telephone before she leaves the airport and he and Nina dancing together, still so much in love themselves after being married for many years, showing us that even though things have changed life will still go on.  To sum it all up this is still one of my favourite films.  For all that the final scenes totally break my brain in terms of logic lots of the gags are still funny even there.  The characters are well-rounded and likeable, the only exception perhaps is Bryan who is pretty much the cookie-cutter good guy fiancé.  George is the high strung emotional clinging dad and he’s well balanced by his level-headed collected wife.  Annie is fun and spunky and Matthew is fun to watch instead of cringe-worthy as is so often the case with young actors in family films.  The sets may not work as a real house, but they are lit nicely and they are staged with a cozy homey feel.  The theme of letting go is subtlety explored and wonderfully sweet, and given a nice gut punching line to close it out with.  All told it’s a fun touching film and I highly recommend it.        

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