“I would like to say a few words about weddings,” a weary man says from the middle of a muddle of rice and scattered bottles. What follows is a warm, witty look at what it means to be Father Of The Bride.
Spencer Tracy is the father and Elizabeth Taylor is the bride in this lively Vincente Minnelli-directed classic. Taylor is glowingly showcased – and reflected in three mirrors when first seen in a wedding gown. Tracy’s performance captures every loving father’s exasperations and joys as the day approaches. It also captured the fourth of his nine Best Actor Academy Award® nominations. The film also earned nominations for Best Picture and Screenplay. Here comes the bride, there goes dad’s wallet…and everyone’s heart. What sparkling fun!
eyelights: Spencer Tracy. the script.
eyesores: the messages it conveys.
“It’s only two syllables from bank to bankruptcy!”
The original ‘Father of the Bride’ is a 1950 motion picture based on the eponymous novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, both hot off their respective hits ‘Adam’s Rib’ and ‘Little Women’, the picture was a smash, resulting in a sequel the following year, a television series, and, decades later, a remake starring Steve Martin.
A light-hearted comedy, this Academy Award-nominated picture (Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay) by Vincente Minnelli tells the story of a father preparing for the wedding of his only daughter – from the moment that she announces her intentions to marry a man he’s never met, all the way to the celebration itself.
It opens in the aftermath of a large banquet. Things are strewn about and the father (Tracy), exhausted, sits in a comfy chair, setting the stage for us by telling us his feelings about weddings, having endured so much turmoil. Tracy does this in a natural and convincing fashion, while distractedly cleaning out one of his shoes at the same time.
‘Father of the Bride’ then flashes back to three months prior, telling the story in a linear fashion. However, Tracy continues to carry the picture via voice-over, by making us privy to the father’s thoughts and feelings as he watches the events unfold before him. This provides not just insight into his personality, but creates familiarity as well.
The picture consists of a chain of events/gags that serve to explain why he is so overwhelmed with the whole affair, starting with meeting her intended, then his parents, then being swept up in the planning of an event that even this rich lawyer can barely afford. There are also some superb exchanges between the parents and the father and the daughter.
I really enjoyed Spencer Tracy here; he made the character very likable and relatable – even if he has a tendency for drink (something that Tracy struggled with in real life as well). He means well, but he is constantly being overrun by his spouse and daughter, who have grander plans than he ever imagined. We see their folly, and can’t help but empathize.
Elizabeth Taylor, on the other hand, was merely okay. She was certainly pretty, a perfect little ingénue, but her performance isn’t nearly as natural as Tracy’s, which annoyed me slightly. Joan Bennett was perfectly fine as the spouse and mother, but she didn’t stand out in any way. The character was annoying, however, because she had unrealistic expectations.
Some of my favourite moments in the picture came in the heart-to-hearts between the characters, but the funniest bits came during a chaotic exchange between the family members as they discussed the wedding plans, when the dad invited everyone over to announce the wedding but was stuck pouring drinks, and the preparations themselves, which were insane.
All of this was perfectly choreographed and directed by Vincente Minnelli, who turned in a rather beautiful black and white picture. I know very little about him, even though he was a reputed director at the time, but it firmly puts him on my radar. That he later treated the wedding ceremony itself with the appropriate seriousness impressed me all the more.
After all, it would have been so easy to insert cheap laughs instead.
No, ‘Father of the Bride’ instead is a subtle affair. It’s not slapsticky and instead derives its humour out of real human folly, the type that we devolve into in moments of pressure. It’s not especially hilarious, but anyone who knows anyone will recognize the patterns we can all fall into when life throws us curveballs. And that is always worth poking fun at.
Date of viewing: April 23, 2015