When it comes to Father of the Bride, only the names have changed.
In the original, Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett play Stanley and Ellie Banks, proud parents of Elizabeth Taylor’s about-to-be married Kay Banks.
In the 1991 remake, Steve Martin and Diane Keaton revive the parents as George and Nina Banks, and Kimberly Williams-not-yet-Paisley-at-the-time takes on the role of young and blushing bride Annie.
Other than that, only the addition of color separates the films.
Both open on patriarch Banks, disheveled and collapsed in his easy chair, just after the last guest has left his daughter’s wedding reception. Papa Banks removes his shoe and rubs his aching foot as he regales the horrific tale of his daughter’s wedding.
Papa Banks has one daughter—a daddy’s girl through and through—and the news of her engagement (to a boy who isn’t worthy of her, naturally) sends him reeling.
As Papa Banks narrates the events to the audience, he makes a loveable fool of himself throughout the rest of the film. While his wife and the fiancé’s parents are unequivocally thrilled, Papa Banks howls that his daughter is too young to get married, and dismisses his wife’s reminder that she was the same age when she married him.
Having financial responsibility for the wedding, he demands cuts to the guest list, and blows a gasket at the price of the wedding cake.
Both feature scenes of the father of the bride trying to squeeze his now middle-aged body into a tuxedo that was the peak of fashion—twenty years ago.
And in both scenes, the daughter overacts to a silly fight with her fiancé and threatens to call off the wedding—for about five minutes, until the equally distraught fiancé arrives to apologize. (In the original the fight is about his desire to go fishing on their honeymoon; in the remake it’s because he buys her a blender as a wedding gift.)
Papa Banks covers his terror of losing his daughter by grousing over the extravagance and cost of every detail, but ultimately bends to his wife and daughter’s wishes down to the last canapé.
And just like any film with a gooey center, he realizes in the end that (just like his wife assured him) it was all worth it, and that, “a son is a son ‘til he finds a wife, but a daughter is a daughter all her life.”
Father of the Bride is a perennial favorite because even though he is an exaggerated figure, everyone knows a Stanley (or George) Banks. A loveable curmudgeon who can’t quite grasp that the pigtailed daughter he once bounced on his knee is now a woman. One who can’t accept that he will no longer be the man in his daughter’s life. (Driven home in both films in a scene where the daughter dismisses her father’s advice that she wear a coat, then immediately acquiesces when her fiancé suggests the same.)
I prefer the original 1950 version, because I’m partial to old films, Spencer Tracy is more believable as a grumpy old dad, and the newer version veers unnecessarily into the absurd at points (as when Steve Martin falls into his future in-laws swimming pool, or spends the night in jail after causing a scene in a supermarket.) Also, the over-the-top wedding planner played by Martin Sheen is similarly absurd and hasn’t aged well.
But these are nitpicks. When it comes to the best version of Father of the Bride, the choice is truly yours.
It’s a story so universal and so beloved that it will likely be remade (virtually unchanged) for every generation to enjoy. As of this writing, there are talks of a remake in development starring Andy Garcia in the title role. Time will tell if this particular project makes it to the screen, but there’s no doubt that as long as there are daughters getting married, we will see Father of the Bride again.
I look forward to the next incarnation.
To see my thoughts on the original sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951), head on over to read my guest post this week at B&S About Movies.