'Father of the Bride': Definitely not better the second time around

On movies

December 23, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett and Elizabeth Taylor did a much better ''Father of the Bride'' in 1950, but the new version, starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Martin Short, has its laughs.

The film's basic flaw is that it mixes high comedy with low comedy, and the melange doesn't quite work.

Martin, doing the role originated by Tracy, plays the father of a 22-year-old girl who arrives home to announce that she is planning to marry a young man she has met in Rome.

Dad is nonplused. This is his little girl. She is still 7 years old to him, despite the fact that she has been away to college and has been living in Europe for a number of months.

You might expect him to behave otherwise, react normally to the fact that his daughter is now a young lady and rejoice in the fact that she has found a nice guy.

But no, this is (begin ital) his (end ital) little girl, and rather than accept the young man, the father is openly jealous of him.

Someone should tell him, long before he hears it, that he is behaving like a fool, that his daughter, one he hasn't seen all that much, is old enough to leave the nest. The situation, however, continues for too long, which is one of the things wrong with this film.

Another is the slapstick. One sequence has the father visit the groom's parents at their home. He snoops through the man's desk and ends up in the family pool when two Dobermans attack him.

Those Dobermans are too much. They would be put away for the day under normal circumstances, but no, we're deeply into silliness here, and anything goes.

hTC When the wedding finally takes place, the father is busy tending the cars that have jammed the road outside his home, another unlikely situation. Preparing for a daughter's wedding has enough comic potential. You don't have to go for the broad brush.

When ''Father of the Bride'' gets down to the basics of cost and preparation, the film is very funny. When Martin Short, as the wedding coordinator, appears, the film is hilarious. Of course, we could use subtitles with Short, but that might diminish the comic effect of this portrayal. He is so good he threatens to take the film from Martin.

Short doesn't, however, threaten to take it the show from Diane Keaton, who plays the mother of the bride.

What's this? Only a short time ago (1977), this woman won an Academy Award for ''Annie Hall.'' What happened?

We'll tell you what happened. Keaton is a fine actress who has had her share of misses in recent years, so here she is, doing what amounts to a supporting role but doing it quite well. The Keaton charm will not be doused.

Kieran Culkin, brother of Macaulay, is younger brother to the bride, played by Kimberly Williams, who may not be the "looker" Taylor was but is good enough to make us believe in her. She is far more rational than her father.

''Father of the Bride'' was directed by Charles Shyer, his first directorial assignment. He does quite well. It is the scriptwriters who have failed him.

The new ''Father of the Bride'' does have sociological significance. Forty-one years ago, you could do a comedy about a formal wedding. Twenty years ago, you wouldn't have dared. Today, apparently, you can, again.

''Father of the Bride''

** (Two stars) - A nervous father prepares for the wedding of his only daughter.

CAST: Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, Kimberley Williams, Kieran Culkin, George Newburn, Martin Short, B.D. Wong

DIRECTOR: Charles Shyer

RATING: PG

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

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