Father of the Bride is a fluffy little comedy, in which perfectly amiable people grapple with an assortment of First World problems. We watch a millionaire fret about spending money on his daughter’s extravagant wedding, when she’ll marry into an even wealthier family. I imagine a lot of people watching this movie would swap their real-world issues for the imaginary ones these characters endure. Still, Bride manages to work when it focuses on Steve Martin’s character as a heartsick father, deeply conflicted at the prospect of his only daughter growing up and moving on. For those moments, the film comes alive, and becomes a touching look at the bittersweet reality of being a successful parent. Everything else had me rolling my eyes.
George Banks (Martin) leads a charmed life. He runs a midsize shoe company; its quaint factory makes a cute counterpoint to corporate monsters like Nike and Adidas. All the employees love and respect George. At home, his wife Nina (Diane Keaton) is a smart, successful woman, and they have two beautiful, well-adjusted children: Precocious preteen son Matty (Kieran Culkin), and daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams), presently studying abroad in Rome.
This idyllic existence gets jostled when Annie comes home and announces her engagement. Nina gushes through tears, while George fires off grouchy questions: Who is this guy? What does he do for a living? How can his daughter possibly be getting married?! This sets up the key conflict of the movie, as George swims against the current that will pull Annie away from him.
This scene also gives everything you need to know about George as a protagonist. He spends the rest of the story complaining in voiceover narration, while his face settles into a deep malaise. At his best, Martin is an ebullient, madcap comedian. He can play gentler material, as in Parenthood. But here, George is such a mopey milquetoast, this feels like an imprisonment. In fact, I’d wager that without such a charming cast, Father of the Bride would’ve been an instant bomb.
The film gets an extra boost from one of Martin’s old buddies. Martin Short strolls in from a completely different planet to play Franck, the cheerfully bizarre wedding planner hired by the Banks family. Histrionic to the point of being maniacal, Franck speaks in phlegmy proclamations that sound like every European accent pureed in a blender. Short provides the film some much-needed energy, and he almost walks away with the whole thing.
As Franck takes Annie’s wedding off the financial rails, he also embodies the Father of the Bride‘s most irritating trait. Per tradition, George is obligated to bankroll the ceremony. He grouses about every check, and feels shunned from the decision-making process. So…sucks to be him, I guess. At the same time, George and his family live in a massive, gorgeous house. (Last I checked, prime real estate in and around Los Angeles ain’t cheap.) He toodles around in a vintage roadster. And Nina lets slip that the family lives below their means. So, George bitches about a ceremony he can easily afford. He whines that Nina and Annie just want him to shut up and sign checks. I think that’s exactly what he should do.
At the same time, Annie comes across as extremely entitled. Just because George can afford an exorbitant wedding doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal for his daughter to push for one. Franck’s assistant, Howard (B.D. Wong), quotes $250 a head, for 600 guests. If you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s $150,000. In 1991. Now? George’s bill would come to almost $320,000. That’s not just pricey–it’s outrageous. Sure, George has the means, but it’s still annoying when Annie and Nina mock him for having sticker shock.
Some people may not realize this film is a remake. In the 1950 original, Spencer Tracy played the cranky dad, and he was rich, too. Maybe giving the family boatloads of cash helps keep the vibe lighthearted and pleasant. After all, watching a struggling father deplete his savings to deliver a dream wedding would be heartbreaking to watch.
Martin does bring poignancy to George as a nostalgic dad. As a parent myself, every kid’s milestone brings a little sadness, because once a phase is over, it’s over. In one scene, George lies in bed and achingly recalls Annie’s first steps, first bike ride, and graduation. This particular night will be her last at home as a single woman. He’s thrilled and sad, all at once. I really felt for him. This Father of the Bride needs more moments like that, and fewer scenes in which they worry about how many swans and tulips to get for the backyard.
105 min. PG. Disney+.