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In this sequel to Father of the Bride (1950), newly married Kay Dunstan announces that she and her husband are going to have a baby, leaving her father having to come to grips with the fact that he will soon be a granddad.
Proud father Stanley Banks remembers the day his daughter, Kay, got married. Starting when she announces her engagement through to the wedding itself, we learn of all the surprises and disasters along the way. Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income lawyer has his domestic tranquillity destroyed when his 20-year-old daughter announces that she is going to get married. Stanley Barnes, nominal head of the Barnes household, finds himself increasingly marginalised as the wedding approaches.
Tracy underplays Stanley and judges his performance beautifully. He is the staid old dinosaur at the centre of the hubbub. Whereas Steve Martin in the 1991 version played the father as a manic plunger into other people's swimming-pools, Tracy can raise a laugh by lying motionless in bed, staring into space.
Stanley's wife Ellie is played by Joan Bennett, and hers is the comedy of manners, manoeuvring through the various social minefields which she encounters. She restrains Stanley from yelling in front of the domestic help, harbours doubts about Kay and Buckley (unlike Diane Keaton's character in the remake) and gets nervous and embarrassed in front of the in-laws. It is touching for us to learn that she regrets not having had a white wedding of her own, and this gives her a credible motivation for the spendfest which follows.
This film is surer of itself than is the remake, at least in part because in 1950 the social demarcations were clearer and more solidly-grounded. The Barnes family lives in a bourgeois community in which the 'rules' are universally understood. There has to be an engagement party, and a formal visit to the in-laws. These procedural steps en route to the wedding are unquestioned. In the 1991 version, the notion of 'being middle class' has expanded and grown nebulous. The in-laws are simply richer, not socially superior. The milestones towards the marriage are fumbled for - no-one is comfortable with the protocol. Even the man-to-man talk feels inappropriate.
Interestingly, Stanley is able to get away with being a garrulous bore. Martin strives for the viewer's sympathy, whereas Tracy is assured enough to let his character have shortcomings. He does not need to swing from ballustrades to get laughs, because he has enough presence and authority simply to be what he is, and to allow the humour to arise out of the situation.
Tracy can, however, mime with the best of them. The slightly-too-short waistcoat is great fun, and his silent reactions to the bust-up and reconciliation are marvellous. The film contains lots of goodies, like the expressionist nightmare or the quiet moment when Tracy is alone with the floral displays, seemingly hemmed-in by the frippery of the wedding. Director Minnelli is a master at ensemble 'babble' scenes, and this film has some good ones.
Verdict - light comedy, supremely well-crafted
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