Tuesday, May 15, 2012

FATHER OF THE BRIDE: Parts I and II: Bluray (Touchstone 1991/95) Touchstone Home Video

Okay, this is going to sound like sacrilege to cinema purists of which I usually rank myself one among many, but I actually prefer Charles Shyer’s 1991 remake of Father of the Bride to the Vincente Minnelli 1950 original. Put bluntly, I always found the original’s base mentality of ‘the little woman’ – all aproned up, wearing a head kerchief and cooking up a storm for her hubby – stereotypical and clichĂ© even by the rigid cinematic standards of the frosty fifties; a decade where not even marrieds were allowed to share the same bed. It was even more of hurdle to overcome when I considered that Kay, ‘the bride’ in the original was played by Elizabeth Taylor. I mean, honestly, can you picture the sultry Elizabeth forgoing her sexy/stately glamor for a can of Crisco and little pots and pans?!?
Even more problematic for me was the fact that Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s screenplay – based on a novel by Edward Streeter – clung desperately to focusing on Stanley Banks (then, played by Spencer Tracy), who seemed more harried than humorous. There was no integration of the family unit. Stanley was going it alone without the support or even the sympathy of his wife. And then, there was Vincente Minnelli’s creative exercise in the ‘dream sequence’ to contend with; a nightmare that finds Stanley sweating over arriving late at his own daughter’s wedding only to be devoured by the church’s quicksand-like checker floor. It shreds the tuxedo from his body, leaving Stanley in his skivvies as horrified guests look on.
I had seen the original more than once by the time this remake came along, and I remember entering the theater with friends who had not with some trepidation. But then the lights dimmed and the romance and the comedy began; Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer’s screenplay remaining elegantly faithful to the source material where it seemed fitting, but launching into some inspired revisions that made everything come together as it always should.  
The casting of Steven Martin and Diane Keaton, as George and Nina Banks, perfectly gelled. Kimberly Williams made a winsome, but intelligent bride, while George Newbern, as the fiancĂ©e Bryan MacKenzie offered a fresh perspective on the gruesome awkwardness of meeting one’s future in-laws for the first time. There were even bits of impressive slapstick – such as the dog chase, and hotdog bun confrontation – to indulge Steve Martin’s clever agility. The story now fleshed out the characters of Bryan’s parents, John (Peter Michael Goetz) and Johanna (Kate McGregor-Stewart).
But perhaps best of all was the addition of two characters unique to this remake; effeminate wedding coordinator Franck Eggelhoff (Martin Short) and his twink-ish assistant, Howard Weinstein (B.D. Wong). In an inspired bit of ham acting, Short managed to become the perfect foil, delicately poking fun at George’s skinflint ways while exuberantly celebrating the predictable panic and folly of pulling off a glamorous catered affair.
Our story opens with a deflated George Banks (Steve Martin) slumped into an oversized armchair, surveying the aftermath and wreckage of his daughter’s reception. He addresses the camera directly, appealing to ‘dad’s’ in the audience about the ordeal he’s just gone through. From here, we regress to that fateful afternoon a few months earlier when George’s daughter, Annie (Kimberly Williams), returned from a holiday in Rome to announce that she has just met the man of her dreams and will be getting married.
Mom, Nina (Diane Keaton) is dewy eyed with delight. Even Annie’s younger brother, Matty  (Kieran Culkin) is excited for her. But George is instantly outraged by the immediacy of Annie’s declaration. After a minor tiff in which he forbids his daughter to marry anyone, George comes to his senses and agrees to meet the potential groom, Bryan MacKenzie (George Newbern); an independent communication’s liaison with a lucrative globetrotting career.
The mood between Bryan and George is strained at best. But Nina thinks Bryan is a real catch. The next day Nina and George drive to Belle Aire to meet Bryan’s parents, John (Peter Michael Goetz) and Johanna (Kate McGregor-Stewart). To George’s amazement, he discovers that John feels almost the same way as he does about their children getting married. After some initial talk, George excuses himself from the conversation to use the MacKenzie’s upstairs bathroom. But he cannot help himself and soon begins to skulk about, only to be confronted by the family’s two large Doberman Pinchers. The dogs force George, who has absconded with John’s chequebook, to jump from the second story, plunging into the backyard swimming pool.
Shortly thereafter, Nina and Annie inform George that they have decided to hire a wedding coordinator to helm plans for the home based reception. George is reluctant, seeing only more dollars being needlessly spent of the superficialities of the day. But he is positively convinced hiring anyone is a mistake after meeting Franck Eggelhoff (Martin Short) who proceeds to literally takeover planning a great wedding, right down to the style and brand of tuxedos the men will be wearing. George bucks Franck at every turn, incurring Nina’s wrath. After George discovers Annie asleep on the couch, still clutching a copy of frugal ways to plan a wedding, he realizes how important the reception is and decides to give his daughter the grand event she deserves.
The rest of the film is basically a journey through this evolving ordeal, culminating in one of the most sumptuous ceremonies and gloriously lavish wedding receptions ever put on film. Due to unforeseen circumstances George manages to miss out on just about every pivotal moment of the reception, thanks to some mismanaged parking arrangements that need to be straightened out. 
In the end, he barely glimpses his daughter’s happiness as she darts through the front door with Bryan into a limo bound for the airport. The scene dissolves to the beginning, with George and Nina seated side by side in their empty living room after all the wedding guests have gone home. But George’s emptiness and disappointment are deflected when Annie makes a last minute call from the airport, sincerely thanking her father for making her big moment the perfect day. The bond between father and daughter firmly restored, a renewed George engages Nina for a dance under an arbor of dimmed outdoor lights. This magical moment caps off a perfectly sentimental celebration about the ties that bind and enrich our lives.
Father of the Bride is a great movie, one that takes the sanctimony of marriage and turns everything slightly askew before realigning our expectations for a tearful good time. The sequel, Father of the Bride Part II (1995) doesn’t quite reach such meteoric feel good heights as its predecessor, but it’s still a far better excursion than Father’s Little Dividend (1951). On this second trip to Maple Drive, Myers and Shyer throw out just about everything in their rewrite to indulge in the fun and frenzied antics of having a baby. There’s a wrinkle, however. It’s not just Annie who’s about to give birth. Having suffered a midlife crisis, George has gone out, joined a gym and dyed his hair, returning to Nina for one night of passion that is about to cost him everything. Nina becomes pregnant too.
Unable to reconcile what his true feeling are about becoming a dad and a grandfather at the same time, George blames Nina for the pregnancy; a misfire that understandably incurs her anger and disappointment, forcing her to temporarily move out of the house. Meanwhile, George has decided to sell their beloved home to Mr. Habib (Eugene Levy); a wealthy developer who plans to demolish the property. At the last possible moment, George comes to his senses, buys back his beloved home at an increased price, then reconciles with Nina, accepting that time has made him the grand old sage of his family.
Once again, Franck and Howard return, this time to coordinate building an addition onto the Banks’ house to accommodate their new arrival. They also plan a lavish baby shower for Nina and Annie, complete with live storks. Annie and Bryan inform their parents that his work will be taking them far away very soon for an extended period, and our story concludes with a definite sense of finality – a poignant, if not entirely memorable, second outing for this film franchise.
Father of the Bride Part II is not a bad film. In fact, it’s very much above average as far as sequels go. But it understandably lacks the flourish and flare of the first movie because its narrative cannot end on the high note of a spectacular celebration. Instead, we conclude our visit on a note of practicality – a sort of ‘this is life…now get on with it’ message that rings true enough, but is somewhat deadening to our cinematic expectations for the proverbial ‘feel good’. We still get a warm and fuzzy feeling from this sequel, but it doesn’t stick with us as much as the finale of the first film.
Well, it’s about time Touchstone Home Video got around to releasing this much beloved and even more strongly anticipated film franchise on Blu-ray. Does the Blu-ray live up to expectations? Well…yes – and no. Yes, because in 1080p John Lindley’s slightly diffused cinematography sharpens up with improved overall clarity. The DVD releases of both films just looked overly soft and slightly blurry. 
There are also subtle refinements to the color palette. The DVDs often looked as though the entire image had a curiously orange tint. Fine details, however, do not jump out as much as one might expect and flesh tones still look pasty pinkish at best.  Again, compared to Touchstone’s previous incarnations in standard def, the transfer on both films will be a revelation.
But is this as good as it could have been? Arguably, no. Touchstone has made the ridiculous choice of compressing both features onto a single Blu-ray, then giving us two more discs – one DVD for each movie. Film restoration expert Robert A. Harris once wrote a comment - unrelated to this release - about Blu-ray being good – but not that good. His point is well taken herein. Essentially squeezing four hours of filmic content onto one Blu-ray is bound to create compromises in the bit rate being utilized per feature. Also, Touchstone has chosen to forgo giving us a chapter search option on either feature. Dumb! Really, dumb!
The 5.1 DTS upgrades expose subtle nuances in Alan Silvestri’s score. Dialogue still sounds manufactured in spots and effects are very forward sounding. Again, overall, this is a marginal improvement at best.
Touchstone stiffs us on the extra features for Father of the Bride Part II on Blu-ray. We have to utilize their substandard DVD to listen to the audio commentary and gain access to the featurettes for this movie. The Blu-ray does contain the audio commentary for Part I plus all of the featurettes that were included on the 15th anniversary DVD. I have to say, more was expected from this release but Touchstone seems to be making some suspect choices in their mastering efforts. Again, this is the best Father of the Bride Parts I and II have ever looked on home video. But it’s not a perfect presentation, and isn’t that what Blu-ray 1080p is supposed to deliver?
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Part I 4.5
Part II 3.5

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