Its video release cutely timed for June, Disney’s remake of the 1950 Spencer Tracy-Elizabeth Taylor comedy Father of the Bride is sure to get as warm a reception in video stores as it did in theaters last December. But with the original Father of the Bride just as available in any well-stocked store — more available, in fact, since the new film will no doubt be rented out for weeks — is the Disney version really the more enjoyable of the two?
The answer depends on how much you like to cry at cinematic weddings. Director Vincente Minnelli’s earlier Bride is a bittersweet memoir, shot through with genuine sorrow and a sense of loss. The remake, from husband-and-wife writing-directing-producing team Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers (Baby Boom), is more like an album of Kodak moments, with amiable dad Steve Martin turning cute-sullen and cute-cranky at losing his only daughter, played by newcomer Kimberly Williams. She’s lovely, but there’s no sting when she lashes back at Pop’s reservations about the groom. Besides, who could top 18-year-old Liz Taylor’s radiantly bratty portrayal?
Martin gets the anxious moments right, but he’s not up to the gruff pathos Spencer Tracy exuded. The fish-out-of-water fury Tracy makes so hilarious in the first film is merely amusing in the remake. Except in one delightful dinner scene where Martin runs down the family itinerary like a football coach, he’s just not fatherly, and his slow-burn routine moves into broad, SNL-skit territory once Martin Short shows up as an insanely affected wedding planner.
It isn’t just the acting in the new Bride that smacks of TV. The settings have the color-coordinated perfection of commercials. Even the UPS truck that brings an avalanche of product-plugging gifts is impossibly shiny, entering the driveway to a golden oldie on the soundtrack. There are four such music- video montages in the film, and on the home screen they play like Nike Air spots — a fun, basically empty rush. In contrast, Minnelli brings indelible emotion to more than one scene by keeping the soundtrack silent, as when Tracy strains for a solid minute to button an old tux.
Of course, some will view the prefeminist landscape of the original Bride and conclude that anybody who likes it better is an old-crank reactionary. And with a story line so evocative of the dad-daughter split that marriage can bring, the new Bride will still send softies grabbing for tissues. But only Minnelli’s version will make you want to hit the rewind button and bawl all over again. Old Bride: A-