"Father of the Bride Part II" is as bright and shiny as a Christmas tree ornament and will likely be cause for holiday season cheer in many a family feeling overdosed on brutality and depravity on the screen.
The seasoned husband-and-wife team of Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer--she produces, he directs, they collaborate on the script--and their expert cast, virtually intact from the 1991 "Father of the Bride," knows exactly how to deliver the goods, just like Santa.
Having gone through the trauma of marrying off a cherished daughter, Steve Martin's George Banks finds himself in another dilemma: No sooner does his daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams) announce that she's expecting a baby than his wife, Nina (Diane Keaton), reveals that she too is pregnant. If George feels too young to be a grandfather, he also believes he's too old to be a father at his age, which his secretary has calculated as being exactly 31 days younger than President Clinton.
Unsurprisingly, Martin is adept at conveying the angst of middle-age male crisis, but the film doesn't develop his anxiety much beyond George high-tailing it to the gym--he's not really out of shape, for that matter--and the barbershop for a dye job. Very quickly the film settles into a kind of comfortable '50s sitcom in which a screenful of nice, affluent and intelligent people sort out their emotions and priorities in the face of inevitable changes created by the advent of babies in two households.
What Meyers and Shyer have accomplished is to create a pleasant, sentimental domestic comedy out of a family that really has no problems to overcome, not an easy feat. These people have everything: great looks--Martin and Keaton couldn't possibly make middle age look more attractive--good health, plenty of love and lots of money. Sure, they have to make choices and accept the passing of time like the rest of us. But they all live in homes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; when George impetuously sells the Banks' gracious San Marino colonial only to buy it back, he has no problem paying $100,000 over his selling price.
Indeed, it is this transaction that blemishes "Father of the Bride Part II" as an otherwise innocuous fantasy of upper-middle-class American life. By making the purchaser of the Banks home an unshaven, tough-minded Arab (played with humor by Eugene Levy), Meyers and Shyer--in an amazing lapse of judgment for such pros--reinforce a nasty Southern California stereotype: that of the sharp-dealing Middle Easterner who tears down a gracious older home and replaces it with a monstrously over-scaled residence. The filmmakers clearly don't mean to be funny at the Arab's expense, but their film is too unreal for it not to play that way.
Ironically, they get away with a flamboyant gay stereotype in Martin Short's giddy party organizer supreme, the weirdly accented Franck Eggelhoffer, and in his equally campy cohort Howard (B.D. Wong). Franck has been written with genuine affection and imagination, and played with such panache by Short, that he could stand as an homage to Franklin Pangborn, that definitive screen sissy of Hollywood's Golden Era. Most important, Franck emerges as a three-dimensional individual who actually connects with the Banks family.
The film's best touch is when Franck talks George into constructing a new wing to his house especially for the baby--unnecessary since Annie's room is surely unused--and it turns out not to be the kiddie kitsch we're braced for but the most beautiful child's room imaginable with a refined, exquisitely appointed cream-colored interior reminiscent of early 20th century rooms featuring painted Louis XV and XVI-style furniture. But then production designer Linda DeScenna has good high-end WASP taste down pat, and her efforts have been given a burnished look by cinematographer William Fraker.
While Martin, Keaton, Williams and George Newbern as Nina's husband plus others form an ensemble, the film boasts another scene-stealer besides Short in Jane Adams, who plays a young, pretty, coolly competent obstetrician--exactly the kind of doctor you would want to have in any circumstances.
Well into the film you find yourself saying to yourself that Louis B. Mayer would have loved this film with its idealization of family life only to catch yourself realizing that, after all, it's a reworking of MGM's "Father's Little Dividend" (1951), the sequel to the original 1950 "Father of the Bride."
* MPAA rating: PG, for some mild language and thematic elements. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for all ages.
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'Father of the Bride Part II'
Steve Martin: George Banks
Diane Keaton: Nina Banks
Martin Short: Franck Eggelhoffer
Kimberly Williams Annie Banks-MacKenzie
A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation produced in association with Sandollar Productions and the Meyers/Shyer Co. Director Charles Shyer. Producer Nancy Meyers. Executive producers Sandy Gallin, Carol Baum. Screenplay by Meyers & Shyer; based on the screenplay "Father's Little Dividend" by Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich. Cinematographer William A. Fraker. Editor Stephen A. Rotter. Costumes Enid Harris. Music Alan Silvestri. Production designer Linda DeScenna. Art director Greg Papalia. Set decorator Ric McElvin. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.