Jen Doll is the author of Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest, out May 1, from Riverhead Books. For Refinery29, she'll be rewatching a slew of classic wedding movies to see how they stack up to the real deal.
Though weddings are a persistent cultural reality, they come in all forms. While writing about the weddings I’ve been to for my upcoming book, Save the Date, I couldn’t help but think about the movies that have shaped my opinion on nuptials. The films in particular, from Father of the Bride to Four Weddings and a Funeral to Wedding Crashers to Philadelphia Story, present images, characters, and story lines that, for better or worse, have had a hand in shaping what I’ve believed a wedding is supposed to be, and what I might want for myself, if I ever marry. And, sometimes, these movies point out very clearly what I don’t want.
I decided to revisit a number of those films that have slowly but surely molded my perspective, to see what can be learned from them now, and how my perceptions of them have changed. Welcome to Save the (Movie) Date, a series in which I rewatch the wedding movies we used to know and love to uncover tropes and truths about love and relationships and, of course, weddings — along with stuff we never even noticed the first time.
For our kickoff, I saw the 1991 now-classic remake of the 1950 original Father of the Bride starring Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy. When I first saw the “new”Father of the Bride, featuring Steve Martin, Kimberly Williams, and Diane Keaton as the mother of the bride, I was nowhere near the average U.S. marrying age myself, and, in fact, not even able to drive. Now, I’m older than the bride herself (she’s just 22!) and even the groom (he’s 26). So, how does Father of the Bride stand the test of time and measure up in the overall wedding-rom-com genre?
Click through to rewatch Father of the Bride with us.
Plot Summary: Young Annie Banks comes home from studying architecture in Italy to tell her parents she’s met the man of her dreams and is engaged to be married. Mom, Nina Banks, is supportive and dreamy. Dad, George Banks, quickly freaks out and continues to freak for most of the movie over various aspects of wedding planning and, more importantly, over losing his little girl. Or, as the TV synopsis puts it, “A harried patriarch faces separation anxiety, exorbitant costs, and more as he prepares for his daughter’s wedding.”
The Happy Couple: Annie and her fiancé, Bryan, are 22 and 26 (22 and 26!). This floored me. They are so young. The drama they face — their families potentially not getting along, Dad accepting Bryan, Dad paying for the wedding and to fly guests in, Dad stomping his foot about the wedding cost, Dad being weird about his daughter growing up and finding “a man to replace him” — felt like the drama of young adults, and a bit dated, too. The fight between Annie and Bryan that threatens to curtail the wedding — he buys her a blender, she views it as putting the “little wife” in the kitchen — also seems juvenile; though, I liked its reference to sexual politics, and that Annie wants a modern relationship.
On the other hand, Bryan’s dad utters the always-relevant thought about children pairing off for a walk down the aisle: “The bottom line is, they’re 21. You have to let your kids go and hope you brought them up right.”
Wedding Logistics: They only have five months to plan a wedding at home, which is met with some shock by Franck the wedding planner, played by Martin Short. There is a cake that costs $1,200. (“Welcome to the ‘90s, Mr. Banks,” says Franck.) George loses it when he finds out the wedding he’s throwing his daughter in his own home will cost $250 a head, and that they have 500 guests. He tries to cut costs, but finally stops protesting when he sees Annie asleep with a copy of Brides magazine featuring how to have a beautiful wedding on a budget. Later, Nina tells her husband they don’t spend a lot of money on travel or other things, so deal with it: They have money for this, and “a wedding is a big deal.”
Wedding “Disaster”: It snows on the day of the wedding, but luckily, snow is white.
Film’s Ability to Transcend Time: This movie is firmly placed in its time period, because pretty much anything that happened in the early ‘90s is sort of stuck there. That said, it’s not unwatchable now. The depiction of a family bending and reshaping itself as time and roles change, and the growing pains associated with that, is still pretty accurate. But, the idea of Dad paying for everything at a wedding is sort of shocking, as was, to me at least, how involved the family was in their daughter’s wedding plans (this stressed me out a bit!). Annie was living at home until she walked down the aisle (this stressed me out, too!). But, there were indications of progressive and evolving views: In the beginning of the movie, George tells Annie, “I thought you didn’t believe in marriage. I thought you wanted to be your own person.” She says, “I’m not going to lose my identity.” She can have love and herself, too. Yay for that.
Attention to the Wedding Guests: Because Dad is a wedding guest (as well as a host) there’s a lot of focus on him, obviously. But, the other guests, not so much. We see them get in line to scarf up expensive food. We see them dance and rush to catch the bouquet and have fun. But, there’s nothing about their particular plight. It’s Father of the Bride, not Friends of the Bride, after all.
Cheesiness Level: High, very high. It was, after all, the early ‘90s. Annie wears specially designed white lace sneakers and a big old long-sleeved poofy white dress with a veil. The bridesmaids sport pink dresses, also long sleeved. There is much sateen. Annie and Bryan marry to Pachelbel's Canon; she walks down the aisle to “Here Comes the Bride.” And, “I love you” is thrown about more times than the basketball that George and Annie dribble in their family bonding moments.
Surprises: B.D. Wong, my most cherished FBI psychiatrist Dr. George Huang of Law and Order SVU, appears as the pony-tailed assistant to Martin Short’s Franck. (For the acting direction in those two roles, see "early '90s; dated.")
Anxiety Production: Much of the movie involves George either on the verge of flipping out or actually flipping out, but these were comic-relief rages, and therefore more corny or ridiculous than stress-inducing. The part of the film I did find stressful, though, was the wedding itself, when George tries to get food but can’t due to the sudden lineup in his own home, when George wants to see the bouquet toss but can’t because he has to deal with a parking emergency, when George wants to say goodbye to his daughter — to kiss the bride — but misses her because he’s stuck outside. Fortunately, it’s a Hollywood movie so he gets an “I love you” call from her before she jets off to Hawaii on her honeymoon, but the idea of missing important parts of a wedding because of all the moving pieces in this occasionally overmanaged event is legitimate. He wants to be there; this is a big deal. It also made me think about how important it is to just be there, and not to stress about the small stuff at a wedding — it’s just one day, after all.
Similarity to Going to an Actual Wedding: In the beginning of the movie, the frame story to the flashback, Steve Martin sits on a chair in his now devastated home. It’s that post-wedding aftermath when the guests are gone and cleanup has yet to begin, and he’s slumped in one of the remaining chairs in the house, exhausted, a little bit wary of beginning his whole story, but needing to tell it nonetheless. “I used to think a wedding was a simple affair,” he says, wearily. “That’s getting married. A wedding is a different proposition.” How true, George.
I liked that it wasn’t all euphoria in the end, because at most of the weddings I’ve been too, happy or not (most of them, thankfully, happy), you feel a little bit like George at the end — a little bit numb, a little bit WTF, but content. Additional points for verisimilitude: This movie hammered home how much a wedding is not just about a bride and groom but also about the entire family. How a father brings his own particular thoughts and needs and hopes and dreams to a wedding is a real topic worth discussing.
Tears: Yes, especially in the latter half of the movie. I am a sucker for sweet father-daughter moments, and while this movie’s scenes are frequently ludicrous, over the top, and goofy — and while I have never played basketball with my own father, and while I feel conflicted about woman being “presented by a man” for marriage — I still cried heartily when Steve Martin wonders, who presents this woman? But, she’s not a woman, she’s just a kid. And, she’s all grown up and leaving us. Something inside began to hurt. Because in the end, that’s about love and family and sharing sweet times and the inevitability of growing up, and that’s exactly what weddings are about, too.
Overall: B-. While elements of it were sweet and a little sappy, much of it felt dated, and the fatherly oversight of the event tied to the purse strings felt not-very-female-empowering. Maybe this was true in 1950, but do we really expect Dad to foot the bill for the entire wedding these days?