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‘Father of the Bride’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 20, 1991

 


Director:
Charles Shyer
Cast:
Steve Martin;
Diane Keaton;
Martin Short;
Kimberly Williams;
George Newbern;
B.D. Wong
PG
Parental guidance suggested


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One day, George's daughter is in pigtails, shooting baskets in the back yard, and all is right with the world. He's the man in her life. Period. End of sentence. The next day, she's in a slinky black dress, talking about this fabulous man she's met in Rome, this man who, she tells Daddy, she's going to marry.

What? he says, the room spinning. She's going to what? All of a sudden, he feels ancient, useless, a shapeless lump of nothing hurtling though empty space. How could she do this to me?

This is the premise of "Father of the Bride," the slight but delightfully sweet-natured new comedy starring Steve Martin. The movie, which director Charles Shyer and his wife, Nancy Meyers, have updated from the 1950 Spencer Tracy-Elizabeth Taylor classic, is a panicky catalogue of the nuptial slings and arrows that every father must endure to make his daughter's dream come true. Each step along the way is a disaster, from his first meeting with the groom-to-be (George Newbern), who, at least in George's eyes, can't keep his hands off his little girl, to the catastrophic lunch with his future "in-laws," who discover that he's been snooping through their bankbook after first fishing George out of their swimming pool.

Annie's announcement rocks George (Martin) to the marrow. He's not ready for his little Annie (played by Kimberly Williams) to grow up. And men? Forget it. Still, she seems deliriously happy, and his wife, Nina (Diane Keaton), seems happy. So, after experiencing some initial reluctance ... he experiences even greater reluctance. If George has any say in the matter, this thing isn't happening.

Of course, George -- like all fathers -- has no say at all, not about the marriage or the wedding or anything else. His sole function is to pay the bills, and he isn't happy about it. In particular, he's not happy about the $1,250 he is supposed to lay out for the cake, or the swans that are supposed to amble around in the front yard. And he's especially livid about Franck (Martin Short), the wedding coordinator, who takes a kind of David-Wolper-halftime-at-the-Super-Bowl approach to the event.

This is far from Martin's best role, but it is one of his loosest, and it does allow him to display his talent for bug-eyed hysteria. From the moment he hears about the wedding, George is totally out of his gourd, a patriarchal loose cannon. And Martin's reactions are painfully but hilariously overblown. The movie is unapologetically sentimental, and there's a touching dollop of pathos in his performance; behind his skinflint penny-pinching over the wedding costs is a palpable sadness over the loss of his daughter. If he's freaking out, it's because his heart is breaking.

It's Keaton's Nina who keeps George from flying into a million pieces; she's the steady, levelheaded half of the couple. Yet while the actress is likable in the role, the part she plays is rather colorless. And because she isn't even given a comic highlight of her own, who can't help wondering what she's doing here or why the filmmakers thought that a star of her gifts was necessary.

The movie's true runaway performance is given by Martin Short, who's beginning to specialize in stealing the show with his sublimely otherworldly cameos. This is another of his blissful caricatures, and light-years beyond eccentric. As Franck, he plays a fey autocrat of unfathomable origin. Just possibly he's from Denmark, but if so, he's Danish by way of Pluto. Franck is a style fascist; every wedding is a work of art with the distinctive signature of its behind-the-scenes genius, and to get into the role, Short twists his voice and his body into unimaginable contortions. His work here is inhumanly funny.

The movie, as a whole, isn't nearly so original. Though it's not a literal updating of the earlier MGM film, it's close enough to the original to hold very few surprises. Still, it's a pleasing, well-crafted, surprisingly satisfying diversion. It's eager to entertain and has a quality that's genuinely rare these days, a spirit of gentle modesty.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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