“Anyone who tells you fatherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to you…they are understating it.” —Mike Myers, actor
When I saw Father of the Bride on my list of movies to watch for this blog series, I thought, “Oh goody, I get to relax and re-watch a Steve Martin classic!” Then I noticed the date 1950 tacked on the end of it, and I was a little disappointed. Sometimes I genuinely enjoy old movies, but other times I watch them because it’s the equivalent of eating cinematic vegetables; you consume them because they make your film diet well-balanced. This one stars Spencer Tracy, who is a little older now than when we saw him in Woman of the Year (1942).
Both versions of the movie follow the same storyline, and at times the dialogue is even word-for-word. Father of the Bride is, not surprisingly, told from the father’s perspective. He breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience. We start off in a trashed house after the wedding reception is over and then flash back to watch the events leading up to this setting of disarray. The daughter of the family unexpectedly announces her engagement. Everyone seems thrilled except Dad, who not only struggles to let go of his little girl but also braces himself for the blow his bank account takes with each passing scene. In a Hollywood sea of (perhaps a few too many) father/son movies, this is a father/daughter story for the ages. And I mean that literally as you will soon see…
The fact that each film is so funny and well done, even though they’re forty-one years apart, speaks to the timelessness of its subject matter. 1950s dad Stan Banks (Tracy) and 1990s dad George Banks (Martin) both respond in similar ways to the stresses of their daughters’ weddings. Especially early on, they both seem uncertain and nervous about how to behave in the presence of their new son-in-law. They both want to make their wives happy without draining their life savings. And they both love their daughters to the moon and back. When each one gets lost at the reception in his own home, I was kind of hoping the two characters from different eras would somehow bump into each other so they’d have an understanding shoulder to cry on.
I was taken aback by how many times I actually LOL’ed at Father of the Bride (1950). For example, when Stan and his wife Ellie Banks go to meet their future son-in-law Buckley Dunstan’s parents, Stan has a few too many drinks. (Adjusted for inflation, the amount of booze seen in this movie might be comparable to Wolf of Wall Street for ’50s audiences.) The Dunstans politely ask the Banks about their daughter, and Stan starts droning on and on about her childhood and previous boyfriends. The scene transitions several times to Stan with different drinks in his hand, still talking, indicating a lot of time is passing. Too much time. The Dunstans’ concerned eyes are glazing over. Finally, Ellie saves the day by cutting in and exclaiming, “And then she met Buckley!” Stan promptly falls asleep seconds after the other parents begin to talk about their son.
A lot of things changed culturally between the ’50s and the ’90s, at least onscreen. Stan and Ellie sleep in separate beds with a nightstand in between them, while we infer George and wife Nina have a marital escapade on the kitchen floor in Father of the Bride Part II (1995). Even with such indicators of changing times, the core message of these stories is one for the ages: it has always been hard for daddies to give away their daughters, and it probably always will be.
P.S. I go to church in Santa Monica where the 1991 Father of the Bride was filmed!