Spike Lee’s work showcases up-and-coming talent. Woody Allen uses a highly creative mix of familiar faces. But the people in movies directed by Alan Alda always seem to be wondering where their careers have gone.
Take a look at the lineup in Betsy’s Wedding, an aggravating variation on the old Spencer Tracy chestnut Father of the Bride. The film wastes two former teen queens (Molly Ringwald as Betsy and Ally Sheedy as her drab sister), two brilliant comediennes (Madeline Kahn and Catherine O’Hara), and gives us Joey Bishop as the ghost of Alda’s advice-giving dad. All together now: Joey Bishop?
They’re all at a loss, because Alda’s technique is to round up a huge cast for a story that’s really about himself. He’s center stage as Betsy’s dad, and while we’re meant to see him as a cockeyed, middle-class optimist, you need believable characters to react against for that, and this script is full of wafer-thin stereotypes (even Joe Pesci seems like just another actor here). Alda-the-director’s desire to create big, life-affirming tableaux collapses in the face of Alda-the-actor’s fatuous hamminess.
The truth is, Alan Alda’s best work so far has been for somebody else, namely Woody Allen, in Crimes and Misdemeanors. There Alda played a hollow, preening film producer with such hilarious relish that you knew he was in on the joke. With Betsy’s Wedding, unfortunately, the joke is on us. D