We all dig Steve Martin. The guy was a hilarious part of my childhood, everything from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, The Jerk, The Little Shop of Horrors, and The Three Amigos. He’s a staple of comedic filmmaking, but in the early 90’s he began to change over from funny frontman to white-haired uber-dad, moving into more of an older figure and guiding his films in different ways. His career took a bit of a nosedive and he has wound up being obsessed with collecting expensive art and playing the banjo, but before he took a long walk off of a short pier he participated in a lovely little pair of films, the first of which I’d like to chat about today.
Yup, we’re talking Father of the Bride. Written by the glorious Nancy Meyers and directed by Charles Shyer, the film paints a fun portrait of an aging man uncomfortable with just how much his daughter is growing up. It’s also a violently weird portrayal of privilege and suburban wealth, but all of that is hidden beneath such a pretty sheen that it’s hard to pay attention to anything other than the laughs and the love.
Father of the Bride tells the story of George Banks, owner of a successful athletic shoe company in San Marino, California. He’s at home in his disturbingly massive and gorgeous house with his wife Nina (Diane Keaton) and son Mattie (Kiernan Culkan). His daughter, Annie (Kimberly Williams, an early crush of mine), is soon to return home from Europe after graduating from college. She brings a surprise in the form of Bryan MacKenzie (George Newbern), her new fiance. Listen, I struggle to see what George’s problem with the guy is. He’s pleasant, objectively quite handsome, well-off, and blatantly head-over-heels for Annie. George’s discomfort stems from being unwilling to let his daughter grow up and be her own person, a very disturbing bit of domestic discomfort that doesn’t go as addressed as it probably should be.
Steve Martin has proven before that he’s great at playing a jackass and a jerk, and he shines like a thousand suns here. Whether sifting through the financial documents of Bryan’s parents to angrily shouting at his daughter over dinner, he lives in this role so well that you begin to wonder just how much he’s acting, rather than just actually…being kind of a jerk.
While George Banks may be the main character it’s kind of odd that everyone else is more interesting than he is. I love his performance, but there’s something in Diane Keaton’s vicious intelligence that proves to outshine him by a mile and a half. The prison scene (yes, for those that haven’t seen it there is indeed a scene with Steve Martin behind bars), her level-headed and argumentative fashion of combatting her husband’s possessive and exasperated nature, and the quiet dignity she uses when speaking to the younger actors, Nina Banks winds up being one of the MVPs of the whole film.
That isn’t to say the rest don’t measure up, because Kimberly Williams and Kiernan Culkan are absolutely rocking the comedic chops. But there’s one hilarious pair that knocks then into obscurity. Martin Short and B.D. Wong are absolute dynamite. Short is borderline offensive in his accent, but winds up just being laugh-out-loud funny the entire performance and his adorable counterpart in B.D. Wong gives us the chance to look at someone other Short’s character Franck Eggelhoffer, an eccentric wedding designer, is as broad as comedy can get and he absolutely gnaws on the scenery with each second he’s onscreen. Wong’s Howard Weinstein (the most unfortunately named character in comedic history) is a great counterpart, mixing eccentricity and calm. It’s just goofy in all of the right ways, and few characters are going to be as memorable as these two.
There’s a ton of little moments I could point at to sell you on this, but I’d honestly just prefer you watched it. A bunch of things I don’t like wind up being perfect for the structure of the film, from the way it begins in media-res to the overly-schmultzy romance, and yet it all winds up working. There are problems, but you could find those in any film. Instead I just found everything working and leaving me satisfied, happy, and with a bit of an afterglow that lasted the rest of the day. There’s nothing super difficult, no real layers to peel back without wrecking the film, but it’s a breezy watch and one I’ve grown to love in my 30s. Give it a shot, maybe have some bubbly, and just laugh your ass off.
If nothing else you’ll love Short, Wong, and Culkan. Those three are hilarious.