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Movie Review: The Curious Case of Steve Martin's FATHER OF THE BRIDE

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The best thing about the 1991 Father of the Bride remake is that it would make for a good flick to watch with my girlfriend’s parents.  Stay with me on this: I’m not just bringing up my GF to brag that I have one (although you’d right to pause on that detail.  99% of the time, when an online critic mentions a significant other of any gender, it’s either a) a lie or b) a desperate plea to convince his/her readership that he/she is a person of some desirable substance, and not just a pizza-faced man-child spewing bile about the Star Wars prequels from the dank confines of a parent’s basement).

See, the typical in-law-relationship is naturally fraught.  I don’t care if you and your faux-parents get along like gangbusters; tension – if only a small amount – will always exist between loving parents and the person who coaxes their child away from them (and that goes double if Said Child is a woman).  My own relationship is certainly not exempt from that inalienable fact, so when I join my girlfriend’s parents for a recreational activity, the impetus is to pick something that will lessen the complex feelings between both parties.  Because I like movies and so do they, we end up watching stuff that I’d usually consider beneath me.  Hell, it’s beneath them, too (my almost-in-laws being folks of relative intelligence and taste), but again, we’re trying not to upset the balance.  Movies like Munich or Black Swan bring up all sorts of messy feelings – you want to avoid those.  Movies like The Blind Side or Knight and Day – they anesthetize the social pain away.

In that regard, a middle-of-the-road programmer serves its purpose; on an intellectual level, the brain just needs more.  Father of the Bride hits a good medium.  It’s shallow and predictable and deeply conventional (songs like “My Girl” and “Chapel of Love” pipe in exactly when you expect them to), and because its architects are Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers (they of, respectively, Baby Boom and It’s Complicated fame), the film delivers all the luxurious lifestyle porn that our upper-middle-class and aspiring-upper-middle-class family lusts after (you know the drill: spacious, way-too-big SoCal homes that look like Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn handled all the interior decorating).  However, it’s also low-key and wry and slightly more perceptive than these types of glossy entertainments are, and it has a terrific lead performance from Steve Martin.

The key is Martin.  His George Banks is sweet but not cloyingly so, funny but not mugging, whiny but not obnoxious.  When he hears that his twenty-two-year-old daughter (the lovely Kimberly Williams) is engaged, his fears seem logical, if a mite heightened – he doesn’t want her to give up her independence and spirit simply because she’s blinded by first love’s glare.  Then, after George meets his soon-to-be son-in-law (George Newbern) and realizes he isn’t the devil, his wedding worries get a lot more focused; pulling this event off is going to cost around $150,000, and as the father of the bride (I didn’t want to invoke the title, but there you go), he’s expected to pay for it.  With such a hardy sum, you can’t blame George for going a little mad.

Some of George’s behaviors briefly push the movie into the contrived embarrassment humor that made the Meet the Parents series so popular, and I could have done without the long sequence where George goes to the bathroom at the groom’s parents’ house and ends up falling out of a window and then into a swimming pool (he’s fully clothed, I might add), or the bit where his financial jitters send him into a tizzy over hot-dog-bun prices in a supermarket.

But we also get a delightfully cracked supporting cameo from Martin Short as a gay wedding planner with an indeterminate European accent (the Netherlands by way of Mars, I’d wager) and some wonderful arguments between George and his wife, who is played by the great Diane Keaton.  Keaton uses her gleeful bemusement to defuse Martin’s hissy petulance, and the loopy ways she approaches her dialogue single-handedly redeem an otherwise ill-conceived moment that finds Martin jailed for his hot-dog-bun indiscretions.  Most importantly, Father of the Bride has the patience for quiet beats, like the one where George surveys his home at night, unsettled by the notion that his daughter’s marriage has the power to forever alter his domestic bliss.

Too bad the follow-up – the aptly named Father of the Bride: Part II – can’t muster the same charm.  Talk about your sequelitis: we get more of everything, more narrative complications (both Williams and Keaton’s characters are pregnant; Martin is considering selling his beloved home to a crass Middle Eastern couple), more Martin Short, more Steve Martin shtick, which causes an overload of sitcom-ready gags (Martin having a mid-life crisis and dyeing his hair brown, or further shenanigans at the in-laws’ house when Martin and Keaton are forced to spend a few nights there).  Father of the Bride: Part II isn’t bad, but it’s the kind of movie that the first Father of the Bride narrowly avoids becoming.

Eh.  One out of two ain’t bad.  I value anything that causes cross-family harmony without getting my blood pressure boiling, and Father of the Bride delivers.

Disney’s two-movie collection puts both films on a single Blu-ray, and the A/V results are solid, with clear and nicely textured Blu-ray images.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are also good, offering more power than these sonically subdued flicks need.

Bonus features are light.  Charles Shyer gives a dry commentary on the first movie; there are short EPK featurettes for both Parts I and II; as well as two funny interview sessions between Steve Martin and Martin Short.  The set also comes with DVD copies.

That phrase “fun for the whole family” may grate on my nerves, but it applies to the first Father of the Bride.  As for the second – treat it like a bonus supplement.

The Father of the Bride 2-Pack streets on May 15th.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing.