By Deborah Van Hoewyk
I know, I know, the Academy Awards won’t be announced until February 28, and they are mired in less-than-loving controversy over the lack of diversity in nominees. But if we gave out awards on Valentine’s Day for the best wedding scenes, we’d have a very diverse field of well over a hundred contenders and much more interesting categories.
Best Wedding That Didn’t Take Place
The Graduate (1967, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katherine Ross): The only nominee where we remember the characters by name (“And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,” “Elaine! Elaine!”). Feckless college graduate Benjamin Braddock graduates from college, does not go into “plastics,” gets seduced by Mrs. Robinson, falls for Elaine, and drives the wrong way across the Golden Gate bridge to rescue her from marriage to a proper fiancée.
The Runaway Bride (1999, Julia Roberts, Richard Gere): Roberts is the all-time champ and Gere is a newspaper reporter doing an article on this curious habit. Eventually, Roberts leaves Gere at the altar as well, escaping in a FedEx truck. Not to worry, they get together at the end.
Sweet Home Alabama (2002, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Patrick Dempsey): Witherspoon heads home to Alabama to sign divorce papers so she can marry Dempsey, falls back in love with hubby Lucas, and jilts Dempsey (Doc McDreamy? How could she!) Later, Dempsey takes the bride away in Made of Honor.
Sex and the City: The Movie (2008, Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth): Major wedding plans, with a bridal outfit that includes a turquoise fascinator upside Parker’s head, fall apart at the ceremony because Noth (Mr. Big) gets cold feet after listening too long and hard to one of Parker’s marriage-hating friends. Another they-get-together-at-the-end.
And the winner is The Graduate, for its cultural commentary on 1940s – 50s parents with 1960s kids, and the final scene in the back of the bus when Ben’s laughing turns into that “What now?” expression, Elaine looks at him nervously, and then neither is looking at the other.
Most Completely Raucous Wedding
Monsoon Wedding (2001, Naseerudin Shah, Vasundara Das, ParvinDabas): Asan extended family gathers for a traditional Punjabi Hindu wedding, the film includes the bride bedding a former lover, potential child molestation, complicated family relationships involving loans at the time of the India-Pakistan partition, dancing and singing galore, and an eventual double wedding—the arranged marriage of bride and groom, and a spontaneous marriage of a cousin and the servant.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002, Nia Vardalos and John Corbett): Vardalos, in her early thirties, sees herself as a failure at being a good Greek girl, and her life in general as being plagued by bad luck and things that didn’t work out. She works in the family restaurant, but one day has a fight with her father and decides to go out on her own. Naturally, she cleans up her act and attracts Corbett, who, uh oh, is not Greek. Eventually, they get married, and the wedding is a suitably chaotic, big fat family affair.
Mama Mía (2008, Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, and a cast of putative fathers): Single mom Streep has never revealed just who the father of daughter Seyfried might be. Now getting set for her wedding on a Greek island where Streep has run a hotel for over twenty years, Seyfried wants to have her father give her away. After reading her mother’s diary, she invites three likely suspects who appear in the diary at the right time. No spoilers about the dad here, but be warned—it’s a musical, and Streep gets married.
Bridesmaids (2011, cast of many, notably Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy): It’s not that hard to pick this particular chick flick over the similar male version (The Hangover). Sex, raunch, misbegotten bachelorette party, runaway bride, this one has it all, and it’s way more interesting and genuine than that guy version.
And the winner is Bridesmaids, for its high level of gross but character- driven comedy; maybe for the food-poisoning-just-before- trying-on-the-dresses scene, although that’s a matter of taste. So to speak.
It’s All in the Family
Father of the Bride (1996, Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Kimberly Williams; 1950, Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, and Elizabeth Taylor). Dad (Martin/Tracy) doesn’t want daughter (Williams/Taylor) to marry the guy she’s gotten engaged to after only three months. Dad creates a ruckus about how much the wedding is costing, and just about everything else about it. The wedding gets called off, but just for a while, and when it’s all over, the father of the bride realizes his little girl is all grown up.
The Birdcage (1996, Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Diane Wiest): Remake of a French/Italian film, La Cage auxFolles(1978). Williams and Lane are a gay couple who own a drag nightclub called The Birdcage. Williams’ son Val wants to marry Barbara, the daughter of a conservative senator and his wife. Shenanigans play out as Val convinces Williams to play a straight couple with his birth mother as wife, name themselves “Coleman” so they don’t sound Jewish, etc., etc. Could also be nominated in the Classic Farce category.
Rachel Getting Married (2008, Anne Hathaway, Rosemary Dewitt, Debra Winger): While often billed as a “comedy/drama,” it’s much more of a drama with wisecracks than a comedy. Hathaway has been let out of drug rehab for her sister’s wedding. How the family copes with her presence and the resuscitation of the family tragedy that set her on the path to addiction occupies most of the film, but Rachel (Dewitt) does indeed get married.
Jumping the Broom (2011, Paula Patton, Angela Bassett, Laz Alonso): The uniting of uptown and downtown (NY) African American families at the uptown family’s Martha’s Vineyard estate for Patton and Alonso’s wedding is rife with snobbery, reverse snobbery, intrigue and misunderstanding, a breakup or connection at least every four hours, and a lot of arguing about whether the couple should include the traditional African American “jumping the broom.” It does.
All of these are worth watching, but since the idea is weddings, we have to hand it to Father of the Bride (either version) for its concentration on the feelings of the one member of the bridal party whose experience of this life transition doesn’t get much attention.
It Happened One Night (1934, Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable): Colbert has eloped with a fortune hunter, but wedding has not yet taken place, her father is ticked off and sweeps her off to the family yacht, she jumps ship and hops on a bus back to the fortune hunter. Meets Gable, an out- of-work reporter, who offers assistance on getting back to marry the fortune hunter, really so he can write up the high-society story. But . . . they fall in love, out of love, mistake each other’s motivations, etc. Pop agrees to let Colbert marry the fortune hunter, but finds Gable to be more admirable, pays off the fortune hunter and Colbert and Gable get hitched. Whew!
Philadelphia Story (1940, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart): A classic for its collection of A-list actors, Hepburn has divorced Grant for his drinking, is poised to marry a “man of the people,” agrees to let reporter Stewart attend the festivities and write about them, gets drunk and is carried out of the swimming pool by Stewart, which cancels her nuptials with the man of the people. Wedding’s all set, so she remarries Grant.
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953, Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe): The three stars play models who decide they will all marry millionaires. Despite the Sutton Place penthouse they get from a friend as the setting for their campaign, the first efforts go miserably awry. Grable and Monroe end up marrying regular guys, but Bacall is all set to marry a verified rich guy; of course, she’s in love with guy who helps women with their groceries. He pursues her, but she’s been giving him the brush off all along. Eventually she realizes she loves him, he’s at her wedding to the rich guy, and guess what, not only do they get married, but he’s rich as Croesus!
And the winner is It Happened One Night, because it was the first film, and only one of three films, to win the five big ones—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Leading Actress, and Best Screenplay. (The others are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Silence of the Lambs—nary a wedding in sight!)
Predicting the Plot
High Noon (1952, Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly): The film begins with the wedding of Cooper, Marshal of Hadleyville, to Kelly, a Quaker pacifist. They’re all set to move onto a peaceful life, but Cooper learns that a criminal he had put in jail has been released on a technicality and is headed for Hadleyville to do him in and wreak general havoc at, you guessed it, HighNoon. After all kinds of machinations and bad behavior by the townsfolk, Cooper saves the day, throws his badge down in the dust in disgust, and leaves with Kelly to that more peaceful life.
The Godfather (1972, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and many more): Each of the Godfather movies is rife with rituals and family traditions, often used to provide background for fatal family activities. This first scene of the first God father movie serves to introduce individual characters, and the schizophrenic way of life of the professional and domestic families. Pacino, as Michael Corleone, makes his first attempt to assure Kay (Keaton) that the professional activities are his family—“That’s not me.”
The Deer Hunter (1978, Meryl Streep, Robert DiNiro, Christopher Walken, John Savage): The wedding at the beginning of The Deer Hunter reveals much about the personalities and lives of the three young steelworkers who are about to leave for Vietnam. The Russian Orthodox ceremony unites Savage and his girlfriend, pregnant by another man; tradition has it that if no red wine is spilled, the couple will have good luck forlife. Alas, two blood-red drops of wine stain her white satin skirt.
And the winner is The Godfather, for the wedding’s connection to the ongoing themes of professional (remember, they never said “Mafia”) and domestic families.