J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Father of the Bride (1991)

Posted by J on November 19, 2008

Because Father of the Bride is so incredibly sappy, it’s important to recognize its implicit moral values.  In father_of_the_bride1stories like this, sap drenches values.  People cry tears of happiness and say “awwww!” with their entertainment goggles on, but that means they miss what the story is teaching them.  This movie does not provide much depth, but it tells us something about what we value.

The “father” mentioned in the title is helpless and lacks familial control.  His daughter met a man while in Italy, and she gets engaged without immediately telling her parents.  She knows how to use a phone, but she asked no one about the prudence of this match.  Translation: children are completely independent from parents.  Especially when it comes to mating.

“Of course they are completely independent,” you say, but then you are obviously living in Western culture in the 21st century.  Go back a hundred years, or go to the different part of the world, and you will find fathers and mothers choosing mates for their sons and daughters.  Remember the story of Samson, who had to ask his parents to procure a wife for him:

“Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines.  Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” — Judges 14:1-3

This is not the world-historical norm — Samson is making the choice, and his parents are bothered by that — but it is closer to the norm than Steve Martin gets.

Throughout the movie, the father acts out anxiety over the minimal role he plays in this marriage.  How can he give his little girl to a man he barely knows?  But whatever makes her happy, he thinks, consoling himself.  This fatherly anxiety is amplified many times by the unnecessary voiceover narrator, who instructs us on what the father is thinking and feeling, which is mostly helplessness.  This is supposed to be funny.

Though the father of the bride has almost no authority in this situation, he is expected to provide everything.  He must pay for the wedding even though his future son-in-law’s parents are far richer than he is.  At $250 per person, for 500 people, this wedding requires serious cash.  The final total would nearly bankrupt the father, but nevermind that.  Whatever makes his little girl happy.  This father and his family values the present over the future — a one-day dreamworld over the credit card bills he will be paying for years.

Why do the bride’s parents have to pay for the wedding?  Custom.  Once upon a time, the groom paid the bride’s family.  This was a form of insurance, a dowry, in case the groom died or left his wife.  The dowry is implied in the Old Testament law about bride-prices (see Exodus 22:16-17) and is mentioned in numerous passages in the Bible, not to mention all of ancient and medieval literature.  The father of the bride could also give something to the newly married couple, but it would not be $250 times 500 for a one-day event.   It was a long-term gift, like a big piece of land or a city (Judges 1:15 and 1 Kings 9:16).  Note the differences: a $10,000 wedding cake lasts two hours; a $50 blender is a gift that keeps on giving.

This movie sentimentalizes the valuing of the present over the future.  In other words, it’s the triumph of the most important of modern American values: consumption and instant gratification.   The movie also legitimizes the feelings of a compromised father, who has his daughter’s love but not her full trust.

Late in the movie, the groom-to-be tells us that the thing he loves most about his future bride is her “complete independence.”  In twenty-five years, he will be the next father of the bride.  If he has any children at all.

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 0

Morality: see above

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2 Responses to “Father of the Bride (1991)”

  1. Pieter said

    Based on the passage, I’d suggest Samson’s parents are less worried about him making the choice than they are about the choice he made. They don’t say “hey, let us make the choice for you” but essentially ask “are you SURE that’s really a good decision?” Yes, they’re expressing disapproval, but it’s over who he chose, not that he chose.

  2. J. said

    I think you are right, but that was not the point. I was attempting to show that Samson asked his parents to make the marriage happen. Samson chose, but he needed them to socially authorize the marriage.

    Perhaps I should’ve thrown up Laban and Leah/Rachel as a better example. Fathers have usually been heavily involved in their daughter’s marriages. I am trying to claim that the movie contains that anxiety.

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