Edward Streeter’s Father of the Bride was adapted twice through American cinema. First, Vincente Minnelli directed Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, and Elizabeth Taylor inside the most classic version of a father afraid of giving his daughter away, while Charles Shyer added slapstick to the mix with Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley. Prakash Raj also starred in two versions of the material adapted from Shyer’s film. First, in Hindi with Abhiyum Naanum, and then directed the Kannada remake Naanu Nanna Kanasu.
So there was already lots of material for director Gaz Alazraki and screenwriter Matt Lopez to pull from, and they decided to retain none of it. A bold move and one that paid off immensely. Father of the Bride has been part of cinema history for over seventy years. Alazraki has made the best version of Streeter’s book possible, even if it veers off from the source material, and decides to focus on the family instead of the titular father.
Andy Garcia plays this version’s father, Billy Herrera, who is divorcing his wife Ingrid (Gloria Estefan). The couple will break over the news during dinner while reuniting with their daughter, Sofia (Adria Arjona), who has come back to visit her family. However, Sofia announces that she is engaged to Adan Castillo (Diego Boneta) and plans to marry him in a month. Billy and Ingrid agree to tell her about the divorce after the wedding is over, which puts them at odds with one another and possibly brings them closer than they’d ever thought possible.
One element Alazraki and Lopez have retained from previous cinematic adaptations of Father of the Bride is the father’s stubbornness. He wants to pay for everything, envisions the wedding to be about him and not his daughter, and disapproves of his child marrying someone she barely knows. Unfortunately, the schtick gets tiresome fast, and it’s the film’s weakest aspect. Garcia plays him admirably well, but the material he’s given is uninspired and repetitive. Of course, that’s the point–to showcase how Billy’s egocentrism is the cause of the couple’s divorce, but the character checks out all clichés of the “overprotective but self-centered dad” in mile-a-minute fashion. However, once the film moves past these scenes (and it does so fast) while focusing on the relationship forging itself between each character, there’s a real contrast in how Garcia plays “egocentric Billy” and “sweet and loving Billy.”
You can tell he loves the sweeter material better than the scenes where his character fills a checkbox of clichés through his eyes and how he exudes vulnerability from how he looks at Ingrid (or at Adan) second to none. Garcia is one of the finest actors working today and one of the few who has mastered, in our era, the magnifying power of a gaze. He holds our attention throughout the movie’s tougher sequences through his eyes, and the way he plays with his facial expressions is unlike anything we’ve seen from this legendary actor.
One scene in particular, where he confesses to Adan that he’s going through a divorce, is immensely heart-wrenching to watch and adds incredible depth to the character. Garcia doesn’t need to do much to sell the scene, but the way he looks at Adan with a disappointed, almost melancholic gaze is enough for all of us to understand how sad he feels that he let his marriage turn sour and will break her daughter’s heart while all she deserves is to be happy. Again, he doesn’t need to say much, but the look on his face conveys everything about the character and that he can’t hide his vulnerabilities through the tough exterior he likes to boast about.
Both Garcia and Estefan are superb together, adding an unprecedented amount of profundity to their respective characters. Their character arcs build up an emotional swell like no previous adaptations of Streeter’s book ever did, and every single moment pays off in the most exquisite and bubbling fashion possible. The last act will make everyone a mess, especially if you gave away a child to someone else at a wedding, after watching them grow in front of your eyes and leave your sight to live their life. It’s a poignant moment and one that gives closure to our characters better than the previous films ever did.
The aesthetic isn’t as refined as previous versions (some shots look like a TV movie with some of the most obvious green-screen imaginable), but everything else is virtually terrific. Bringing the focus to the family instead of the sole father makes for a more complete and emotionally charged portrait of the bond everyone shares. Supporting actors Isabella Merced, Pedro Damián, Laura Harring, and Ruben Rabasa shine in their respective roles and solidify the movie’s “family” aspect it wants to put first and foremost. The knot is tied (no pun intended) when Arjona shares some personal moments with Garcia through a domino game or a coffee table conversation. Minor sequences bring out the best in the film’s cast, and Alazraki knows how to exploit that emotion and turn it into a soulful film that will inspire you once it ends.
Veering off from the source material was a risky gamble, but it was the best decision to freshen up the material in new and exciting ways. Alazraki and Lopez have done justice to Streeter’s novel in their own right and painted a marvelous portrait of one of the most infectiously charming families you’ll see on a motion picture this year, with two icons solidifying its emotional core. Because of this, Father of the Bride may be one of the biggest surprises of the year, coming out of nowhere and winning your heart by the time the movie’s over. Now that’s something worth clamoring a sequel for. The material is already there, and it would be something in Warner Bros’ consideration to bring back everyone that made the first film possible to give a fresh spin on the sequel. Zaslav, the ball is yours…
Director: Gaz Alazraki
Stars: Andy Garcia, Gloria Estefan, Adria Arjona, Isabella Merced, Diego Boneta, Chloe Fineman, Laura Harring, and Matt Walsh.
Runtime: 118 minutes
Country: United States