Saturday, September 24, 2011

“Father of the Bride” and Losing a Daughter/Gaining a Son

“Father of the Bride” is a comedy in which George (Steve Martin) discovers that his daughter (Kimberly Williams) is engaged to her boyfriend of only a few short months. Although everyone else, including his wife Nina (Diane Keaton) and wedding planner Franck (Martin Short), are giddy for the upcoming nuptials, George is having trouble marrying off his little girl. The 1991 version of “Father of the Bride” is a remake of the 1950 film of the same name. The two films have the same plotline, differing primarily in the addition of shtick comedy for the later production.

I watched this film right before my wedding with my dad, who rented both versions as a laugh (we ended up only watching half of the original since the two films were virtually the same, word-for-word). Here are all the ratings:

Bride – 7/10
Groom – 4/10  “Fun but predictable”
Father of the Bride – 4/10 “Pretty lame”
Brother of the Bride – 6/10

Clearly, my brother and I have a soft spot for this film, and for the Steve Martin/Martin Short duo. I can remember watching this film when it first came out, and picturing my own wedding just like Annie’s (for reference, my wedding ended up being the polar opposite of the one from the film). Although my dad felt it was “pretty lame”, the movie was enjoyable and had a lot of heart. It’s also an extra perk for brides to watch it with their dads, and promises to create a couple of awkward moments (I speak from personal experience).

*Spoiler alert! – but c’mon, you saw it coming* George spends the large majority of the film coming to terms with the fact that his little girl is “all grown up”. During Annie’s wedding, George contemplates his daughter’s marriage and how that will affect his family. This voice-over monologue caught my attention, and resulted in a great deal of time spent reflecting over the relationship between my then-fiancé, myself, and my dad:

“’Who presents this woman?’ This woman? But she’s not a woman, she’s just a kid, and she’s leaving us. I realized at that moment that I was never going to come home again and see Annie at the top of the stairs. Never going to see her again at our breakfast table in her nightgown and socks. I suddenly realized what was happening: Annie was all grown up, and leaving us.  And something inside began to hurt.”  Courtesy of “Father of the Bride”, Touchstone Pictures

Like Annie and George, I grew up playing sports with my dad in the backyard and exchanging inside jokes at the dinner table. Although my dad got the chance to meet Brandon before we got engaged, watching this film with my dad and hearing this monologue at the end of the film left me thinking: “Oh [expletive] I hope my dad doesn’t feel that way.”

The role of a father in his daughter’s wedding day is traditionally to walk the bride down the aisle, and present her to be married. In most religious ceremonies, the officiant will ask something to the effect of “Who gives this woman to be married?” for the father to respond “I do.” This custom dates back to when wives and daughters were owned by the family patriarch, and the father would arrange for his daughter to be married off for a price[1]. In a more modern sense, this tradition symbolizes the father’s blessing on the marriage.

Reviewing the dialogue from the film, however, it’s incredibly sad to see the pain that this father goes through because he is “losing” his daughter. Obviously I wasn’t around to witness marriage unions in 1950, but this mindset seems to fit in better then than it does now. The friends that I’ve seen get married are not housewives, and they are certainly not owned by their husbands as the tradition of giving away one’s daughter would imply. These married women are just as professional, smart, and independent as they are caring, loving, and devoted. So much has changed in society and in marriage since the days of Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. So are fathers still losing a daughter, or are they gaining a son?

The month before Brandon and I got engaged, he was visiting me at university for the last couple of weeks before the end of term. My parents also came out to visit to enjoy the rare Seattle sun, and one night while I went to a study session for my Philosophy final, my dad took Brandon out to a local sushi restaurant with incredibly authentic and amazing food (at least, that’s what I’ve been told). My brother and I were always picky eaters, and refused most foods outside of our comfort zone. So when Brandon and my dad returned from dinner, after a night of flash-fried shrimp heads and quail egg sushi, my dad was so ecstatic that Brandon had tried (and loved) all the foods from that evening that he proclaimed, “FINALLY, I have a child who will EAT SOMETHING!”

Fast-forward three years to our wedding day, in which Brandon finished up his vows by saying “I’m so proud to be your husband, and to officially be a member of your family.” My parents never lost me as a daughter, but they gained Brandon as a son. Marriage is no longer about ownership and dominance, but is instead about merging two families together in to one big weird mess of chaos and love.

Bottom Line: “Father of the Bride” is funny and enjoyable, and is such a sweet film about a father-daughter relationship. However, dads should not lead by the protagonist’s example – instead, they should accept that their family is just getting a little bigger, and hopefully make the most of it.


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