Just a few short minutes after suffering through a bubble-gum tongue bath entitled Dad, I sat down for a revisit with the Father of the Bride remake, and I figured this could be a good time for a comparison; Charles Shyer's Father of the Bride is, not unlike Dad, an overtly sentimental and cuddly piece of moviemaking. So what makes Father so likable and Dad so insufferable?
I came up with two answers:
The lead actor and the screenplay. (But mainly the actor.)
While Dad has a muted Ted Danson, Father of the Bride has a Steve Martin at the top of his middle-aged game. Martin accomplishes more in the first 12 minutes of Bride than Danson does in the whole of Dad. (And I'm not just knockin' Ted Danson here; the guy was fantastic on Cheers, but melodrama and warmth just aren't his thing.) And warmth is what Martin provides with no discernible effort whatsoever.
If anything works in Father of the Bride (and I'd contend that a lot of it works), it's because we start with the foundation of a smart and sincere Steve Martin.
The plot's as deep as a Hallmark card: a lovely young daughter returns to the nest and unexpectedly announces that she's engaged. Mom is thrilled, little brother is psyched, and dad ... well, good ol' George Banks is kind of a basket case. And as the wedding looms closer and the preparations become more intense, poor old Pop just feels unneeded, unimportant, and unloved.
But Martin sells it. Shoving aside the handful of silly slapstick moments, Father of the Bride represents one of the actor's most admirable performances. With just a crook of the brow or a hand to his chest, you can feel exactly what's going on in the head of George Banks. And when a lifelong Steve Martin admirer tells you that Father of the Bride is one of the actor's true shining moments, well, you know that I mean it.
But there's also Ms. Diane Keaton (another of my favorites, sue me!) as George's reliable wife, and the two make a wonderful pair. True that Ms. Keaton's not really given all that much to do in this movie, but it's great to have the lady along all the same. Martin Short contributes an extended cameo that's truly quite hilarious. Yeah, he's doing not much more than the "rrreally goofy accent" schtick, which is easily older than caveman vaudeville, but Short does it with such color and energy -- it's tough not to giggle.
So while Father of the Bride is basically not much more than a fluffy little valentine of a movie, there's still some actual warmth and wit underneath the "been there, seen that, nice wedding" exterior. It's sweet and consistently funny - and it's easily the best film that Charles Shyer ever directed (unless you consider I Love Trouble and The Affair of the Necklace to be unappreciated masterworks).
And while it's definitely schmaltz, Father of the Bride is quality schmaltz -- or maybe I'm just a sucker for the Steve Martin flicks.
Video: A widescreen (1.85:1) anamorphic transfer that seems to offer a bit of an improvement over the previous DVD release, but it's still far from perfect. Darker scenes, in particular, exhibit some minor fuzz; nothing that gets in the way, really.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is crystal clear. High marks on the ear-factor.
The feature-length audio commentary with director Charles Shyer is a dry and airy affair. The filmmaker admits he hasn't seen the film in about 13 years, and then spends the next 90 minutes proving it. There are a few flecks of interesting info scattered amidst the "Oh, he was great..." cooings, but not many.
There's also a 5-minute Martin and Short Interview Each Other piece of on-set fluff, but it's funny enough if you're a fan of the comedians.
The last supplement is a 10-minute behind-the-scenes EPK entitled An Invitation to Father of the Bride. Admirers of the movie will enjoy this surface-deep look at the production ... once.
Please don't think that just any old movie with Steve Martin earns a gold star from yours truly. He's done his fair share of turkeys, and I still think Bringing Down the House is one of the worst comedies of the past ten years.
And while I don't think Father of the Bride is among his very best films, I do think his performance here is one worthy of special note. As a whole, the movie's just adorable, sweet, and rather funny -- but without Martin's pitch-perfect performance, Father of the Bride could have been all icing and no cake.