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I think this film does a splendid job of showing both the charm and the
pitfalls of Robert Altman's style of direction. And curiously, it may
be his most likable film.
Of course, Altman's trademark soft-focus drama and overlapping soundtrack are in evidence here, giving us a clear approximation of what it is like to be thrust into a big, bustling and poorly-organized social event. A WEDDING shows us what Altman does best, creating an atmosphere where individuals come into and out of focus seemingly at random and the storyline unfolds less like a narrative than as a string of half overheard bits of gossip. The large and varied cast performs with seemingly exaggerated gusto, a necessity to help make clear the individual threads of the tangled narratives. You either love this about Altman's films, or it infuriates you -- sometimes it does both.
Yet, as much as this meandering style of film-making can exhilarate the game viewer, it can also rob the story of a sense of gravity. Certainly, the point of the film is that such an event as a phoney-baloney society wedding is a trivial affair, at the same time when the film turns to matters of life and death, the Altman style makes this seem trivial as well. Altman has never been able to punch home his films with "a big climatic moment" -- and he has never really tried -- and that is what is missing from A WEDDING. It just sort of peters out, like guests who randomly wander out of the party without saying goodbye.
Still, there is something endearing about A WEDDING that is missing from much of Altman's other works. Despite the large hubbub of characters, this is an intimate affair and little bits of bittersweet drama filters through. The lightly sketched vignettes give us an insightful vision of family ties in various states of unraveling. The characters, though ludicrous from a distance, are somehow endearing when viewed up close. Kudos must go to vivid performances by such unlikely costars as Carol Burnett, Pat McCormick, Dina Merrill, Geraldine Chaplin, Lillian Gish, Nina Van Palandt, Mia Farrow and Lauren Hutton, some of whom have but a few seconds of screen time to create memorable characterizations. Like many a real-life wedding, A Wedding is vaguely disappointing, yet strangely unforgettable.
Though not as fully realized a film as MASH or Nashville, this is still a great film worthy of study in film classes and deserving of a better reputation than it currently receives. Altman showcases a wedding between two different classes of American society from vows to alcohol sodden, pot hazed, emotional let down end. I think what bothers most people about this film is that it doesn't hone in on any particular story line or character. Curiously, many recent films, Love Actually and Magnolia, for example, also present many story lines, but in too much detail, attempting to force the audience to care about each and every disparate story line and in my opinion, fails miserably. Altman, instead, only presents snippets of conversations, glimpses into the characters assembled for the wedding. For some reason this movie reminds me very much of the famous painting by Velasquez, Las Meninas. Velasquez's painting shows a royal family, posed rather informally and in the background can be seen the painter himself, painting the picture that is in fact being viewed. Many clues are given by the painter about the people shown, but nothing is obvious. Things are not as they appear to be. And the painting can keep it's audience at a distance if the viewer is not informed or it can bring the viewer into it's closed circle, if the viewer has the intelligence to know where to look. So too, does Altman's A Wedding, keep it's viewers at a distance and yet at the same time, constantly provides portals into the world of its characters. I think Altman does an outstanding job of treating the viewer as if he were an invisible guest at the wedding. Though the bride's father is a successful business man, he's a self made man and not to the manor born and while he can afford to give his daughter an opulent wedding it does not alter the fact that the family his daughter is marrying into, comes from a different echelon of society. One that has lineage and history as well as financial success. It's hard to relate to the groom's family unless one has been exposed to or comes from that world. Altman accurately portrays the idosyncrasies and cultural idioms that make up the world of the cushioned and privileged. This is a great film that holds its own in film culture and in the pantheon of great films from Altman.
This is actually one of Altman's most underrated films from his late seventies period. I have been catching it a lot on the Romance channel (of all places) recently .It is set during a wedding and the two families who comprise the story. Good ensemble acting as we would expect from an Altman film, especially Paul Dooley, Mia Farrow, Carol Burnett and Lilian Gish. While not in the same vein as say Nashville, it is definitively worth watching, especially for Altman aficionados.
This is a fascinating comedy from Robert Altman's peak period
before his 80's downslide. A Wedding is sadly underappreciated,
and really deserves to be rediscovered, especially after the recent
success of Gosford Park which is an obvious companion piece to
this film. Both films deal with class and gender distinctions and
feature an eccentric group of party-goers who can't seem to leave
the soiree and are trapped in a mansion (obviously inspired by
Buenel's Exterminating Angel). A Wedding is filled with great
performances especially Carol Burnett, who is the heart of the film;
Geraldine Chaplin; Desi Arnaz Jr.; and Mia Farrow. Highly
Robert Altman's "A Wedding" was shown recently on cable. Having seen it
when it was first released, I was curious as to how it kept after all
these years. Being an admirer of Mr. Altman's work, it was worth
watching again, although the movie seems a bit too long on second
Mr. Altman brings two families into a formal wedding that are as dissimilar as oil and water. The groom's family is old money and the bride's is new money, perhaps, although the latter one seem to be out of place. The immediate reaction is: why are these two people marrying? Frankly, it makes no sense, at all.
We are treated to a wedding reception from hell! The wedding party as well as some of the few guests that attend the reception are an odd lot indeed. Logic would indicate that if a wedding is at the center of the story, the bride and the groom should be more prominently focused, but this being an Altman film, they are not as important as the people around them.
There is the old matriarch with no sense of time, at all! Then there is the old bishop that might be in the beginning states of dementia. The old family doctor who likes to touch all females' breasts. We have a wedding planner who has no sense of style. The mother of the bride is swept off her feet by the uncle of the groom in a hysterical sequence. The sister of the bride also had relations with the groom and his class at the military academy!
We get to spy on most conversations. Mr. Altman makes us silent witnesses to what is going on behind the scenes. This is his device for telling his story; he lets us hear snippets of conversation to get an idea of what is really going on.
"A Wedding" is a minor Altman. Somehow this story doesn't grab the viewer the same way as some of his best pictures, but it's a fun ride all the same. At the end we have learned the secrets of the two families and frankly, most of it was not that interesting. That is why, perhaps, this movie, although it tries, never found a wider audience when it came out in 1978.
This film is for Altman fans, mainly.
I found this to be an interesting and insightful portrayal of the different strata of American society, and how flexible and inflexible they can be when confronted with issues they MUST deal with. It's a wedding for Christ's sake! Can't miss that! I think it's beautiful that Altman, borrowing heavily from various forms of Commedia dell'Arte, tragic plays of Shakespeare, and other classic literary works, uses a wedding to create the tensions throughout the film. Remember, this is the bride and groom's special occasion, yet everyone else seems so put out and upset with having to deal with one another, as if they are the ones going through with the ceremony, that they will be the ones marrying each another. In today's world, this is an absurd notion, and Altman knows it. You get the feeling he really enjoys watching this all-american, suburban family cringe at the idea of being married to the mob, though all of them know this is probably the last time they all be together. He's always had such a cynical view of the nuclear family. This would really be one of Altman's best films if it wasn't for the silly pretentiousness of some of the roles, especially Mia Farrow's. I must admit that I love the ending, which most people I know hate.
I like people who approach art in new and unconventional ways. 'A
Wedding' is one of the best Altman films for me, because it goes the
furthest towards abandoning a unified structure and rational storyline,
and presents a loose ensemble of stories and moments.
A review of the time said it well for me. The film has any number of stories, but few are presented completely. For some, you only see the beginning. In others, it is only the middle, or the end. The camera is voyeuristic, often seeming to stumble on fragments of things, looking through plants, people partly out of shot.
For me, first seeing the film at the age of 22, I found it quietly hilarious from almost the very first shot. In that early shot, two boys are unrolling a red carpet. Because it has been sitting unused for so long, the roll has gone flat, and this makes the boy's arm wobble as the carpet unrolls. I laughed out loud. That is an introduction to the understated humour and fine comic irony of the film. I think this is why the film is under-appreciated in America. Americans seem to like to attach a flag to their humour: "Don't be offended. This is intended as a joke." Whereas 'A Wedding' seems to have more in common with the comedic tradition of Tati. I still think 'A Wedding' is one of the funniest films I have ever seen.
For me, this film was years before its time. It reminds me of modern bands such as TV on the Radio or, especially, Animal Collective. There seem to be a lot of loose ends, unconnected bits, things that shouldn't really go together, stuff happening in layers that go in different directions. Yet somehow it all works. It hangs together, although perhaps the only unities are those of time and place. And when you actually try to reproduce the effect (perform the works) you very soon find out that the seeming artlessness conceals a level of skills and professionalism that is actually of the highest standard - something that has strongly impacted on my own approach to art.
William Goldman said in 'Adventures in the Screen Trade' that directors are basically very good storytellers. But here we don't have one story at all, we have a slice through 20th century society. A picture that is a picture, not a picture that tells a story. This film reminds me of a statement by Vonnegut, that he thought perhaps The Novel had corrupted the public mind, because in a novel, there are important and major and unimportant and peripheral characters. In this film everyone is of equal importance. For me one of the failures of this film is Carol Burnett. That's not because she is not an excellent actress, or very funny. But she stands out, and while just about everybody else is playing slightly tongue-in-cheek but straight, she plays this as overt comedy.
I don't know if I agree with those commentators who say this is a blistering satire. I don't believe it is, any more than Boccaccio or Chaucer are blistering satires. It is much more like 'Peasant Wedding' by Bruegel, full of picaresque characters, a canvas of muddled humanity trying to fill their days. It is gentle, and if it turns darker as it continues, there is a great deal of darkness in Chaucer and Boccaccio too. Indeed I wouldn't be surprised to find that Altman had been deliberately trying to create something similar to 'Peasant Wedding' in a modern art form. The absurdist influence is also strong. This is a European film, not an American film.
So I consider 'A Wedding' to be a finer movie than 'Nashville', and in fact one of the great movies of the 20th c. It is more understated, less obvious, without clear stories or points to make. In that is its greatness. It is genuinely subversive. It is a movie that uses a quite different structure and method than almost any other movie you have ever seen. It is a movie that lets its characters all talk for themselves. I think 'A Wedding' is a landmark movie, a reference point that should be part of the training of every filmmaker. I don't think Altman ever bettered it. This, with his own company, was his chance to do what he really wanted to do. It is one of the three or four films that has had the strongest impact on my own life and art. After half a century of filmgoing, I still clearly recall image after image. 'A Wedding' still sticks out in my head as one of the high points of all that time.
It seems, I am one of the few commenters who think this movie very funny. Maybe it is, because I am not American. In my opinion A wedding is a great spoof of American culture. It is not a prerogative of the English to keep up appearances. Maybe it is just my weird sense of humour. There are few things as funny as people trying the best they can to run everything smoothly and perfectly, just because decencey commands it, and failing. Altman mercilessly shows the inevitable result: hypocrisy. This is what happens, when people deny human shortcomings. That's why I think A wedding is not typical a 70's movie, but has enduring qualities. Compared to Gosford Park it is easy to follow all the subplots. I like A wedding even better than Mash.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"A Wedding" begins with a rather dull wedding ceremony, director Robert
Altman introducing us to his bride, groom and their respective family
members. As a priest proceeds to wed this couple, a documentary crew
frantically begins to film the event. This documentary crew, which will
be pop up countless times throughout the picture, encapsulates Altman's
own approach to film-making. Though bound to a single space or event,
his camera restlessly jumps from character to character, eavesdropping
on his large cast as he attempts to tease out individual character
After the wedding ceremony, Altman's cast is chauffeured over to an elaborate after-party held at a beautiful mansion. It is here where the fun begins, "A Wedding" suddenly revealing itself to be the precursor to Altman's own "Gosford Park". We watch as maids, assistants and security personnel bumble about this large house, performing chores and tending to business as they attempt to keep the party underway. We watch the various families mingle, chat, dance, search for bathrooms, bedrooms, wine and dine and pose for photos. Everyone is up to something, and Altman has fun chartering their petty moments, movements and conversations.
An hour into the picture, though, and we start to realise just how mean spirited the film actually is. What began as a gentle comedy becomes a rather cynical attack on manners, marriage, family customs and social traditions. Altman's attacks are perfectly valid, of course, but the film's caustic shift in tone catches us completely off guard.
And so when Altman reveals that the groom got the bride's mentally ill sister pregnant, things take a progressively darker turn. Suddenly we realise that seemingly happily married couples are really busy having affairs or plotting sexual rendezvous. We realise that the father of the groom, far from the suave gentleman he appears to be, is really a wealthy criminal in hiding. Seemingly normal characters then begin to reveal their neuroses, whilst others have homosexual encounters in showers, smoke marijuana or discuss abortions. To top it all off, there's a dead woman in a room upstairs and the film ends with the only truly open and honest young couple in the picture, dying in a road accident.
By the time the credits roll, Altman has succeeded in sucking all the joy out of what began as a happy ceremony. His bride and groom leave the party with a sense of disillusionment, both families drawn further apart by their very proximity.
7.9/10 Though not as ambitious as "Gosford Park", this little farce is still a lot of fun. Its only flaws are a slow initial 15 minutes, a rather one dimensional mode of cynicism, and Altman's style itself, which can be rather off-putting if you're not familiar with it. Worth one viewing.
This movie does not differ from many Robert Altman's of the 1970's and
1980's. A large cast is given a situation and it plays out. In this case
its the wedding of two kids but its more about several other things at the
same time. Neither of the family members are very comfortable and the day
is a disaster. No one shows up for the reception. It gets worse than that
A movie like this is as memorable as the actors and they are all very good, particularly Vittorio Gassman, Dina Merrill, Viveca Lindfors, Peggy Ann Garner and John Considine.
Stand-out scene for me was between "MOB" ("Mother of the Bride", in Geraldine Chaplin's caterers' shorthand) Nina Van Pallandt and her creepy & lecherous doctor Howard Duff. Let's just say The Beatles song "Mother's Little Helper" comes to mind right away.
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