The Line UP
My selection of Wedding movies proved to be one of the strongest feel-good lineups imaginable, and a great start to my quarantine journey. Almost any wedding movie will have its share of awwww moments, even those that stray from the idyllic marriage story. I also found that nearly every wedding movie I viewed presents a stark, and often comedic contrast between the serene fantasy of attending a wedding, and the hellish nightmare of planning a wedding. The weddings are like staged plays a family performs in order to appear wholesome, wealthy, and problem-free to the guests. The climb to the wedding day is treacherous, and the fall back into reality after the honeymoon can be brutal.
The wedding movies I watched were Father of the Bride (Charles Shyer), Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu), Steel Magnolias (Herbert Ross), My Best Friend’s Wedding (P. J. Hogan), Runaway Bride (Garry Marshall).
Father of the Bride, and Steel Magnolias are focused on parental anxiety more than the wedding event. They are stories about coming to terms with the fact that children turn into adults, and they make adult choices that may not always align with their parents wishes. These movies show a loosening grasp of parental control as the plots unfold, comically for George Banks (Steve Martin), and tragically for M’Lynn Eatenton (Sally Fields). Both tales are variations of Murphy’s law – anything that can go wrong will go wrong. George Banks misses his daughter throwing her bouquet, and departing for her new adult life – he literally doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye. For M’Lynn Eatenton, while the wedding itself is chaotic (broken champagne glasses, a hubby shooting birds out of trees, condoms on the wedding car), her real loss of control comes after the honeymoon. After a lifetime spent keeping a watchful eye on her daughter’s health, M’Lynn’s advice and warnings are ignored the moment her daughter Shelby (Julia Roberts) steps into a condom covered getaway car. Are the tumultuous weddings, and heartbreaking aftermaths reasons to believe that father/mother knows best? Or are these movies best summarized by Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie’s iconic line, “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.”
For George Banks, planning his daughters “30 minutes of wonderful” comes at the cost of his mental well being. The most famous scene depicts a mental breakdown over hot dog buns that sends George straight to jail. His money woes are laughable, as his family is wealthy enough to own a San Marino home large enough to accommodate hundreds of wedding guests. Still, his net worth is amongst the lowest of all the families in the wedding movie selection.
For the wealthiest families in this assortment, like the Wallances in My Best Friend’s Wedding or the entire cast of Crazy Rich Asians, money is simultaneously everything and nothing. For the Wallances, the amount of money that went into the wedding is never mentioned, but it is undeniably excessive as the pre-wedding brunch takes place on an estate large enough to feature a lengthy chase scene. On the other hand, third wheel Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) repeatedly uses her best friend’s (Dermot Mulroney) low paying job as ammunition to try and break up his engagement to the wealthy Kimmy Wallace (Cameron Diaz). In the heat of an argument money is everything but once they are on the cusp of a breakup they realize that their love is too important for money to matter (it’s easy to diminish the importance of money when your daddy is loaded).
The poorest Singapore resident in Crazy Rich Asians is still richer than the entire Wallace family. Crazy Rich Asians is the ultimate excess movie. The weddings, and all events leading up to them are far beyond “wedding inspo” pinterests boards for anyone outside of the world’s 1%. Spending money is nothing to this ensemble, but having money is everything. After the non crazy rich protagonist, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is introduced to the crazy rich world, her crazy rich boyfriend’s cousin asks her which Chu family she is from. She is not a part of an elite Chu family, and the prodding cousin shouts, “Rachel, chu are you?” as she walks away. The cousin’s question is rhetorical. Rachel Chu is not an heiress, she is not crazy rich, so she is no one.
Rachel Chu’s worth (or lack thereof) is directly tied to her net worth and social status. Across most of these films, there are clear markers for measuring the value of a potential wife. In Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel’s independent career success is irrelevant. The value of wives in Crazy Rich Asians is based in dynasties. There is no working your way up to a dynasty, you are either born into one or you aren’t. Being born into the right family is the most important characteristic of a potential wife in Crazy Rich Asians.
Birth plays a big role in a different way in Steel Magnolias, as Shelby’s self worth is tied to motherhood. Becoming a mother is both her dream and her duty. She finds it necessary for her to have a child at any cost. No one but her own mother is apprehensive about her choice to bear children, even though the entire community is seemingly aware of the extreme health risk. Shelby’s desire to be a good wife and mother worth everything to her, and so she gives up everything to fulfil that dream.
“Annoyingly perfect” Kimmy Wallace also gives up her independent life in order to follow her future husband around the country as required by his job. She gives up on her education and she signs up for constantly being away from her family, whom she is obviously very close with. Kimmy openly expresses that if it were up to her, she would continue her education and she would stay close to her family in Chicago. Every argument ends the same; Kimmy concedes that her place is by her husband’s side. Kimmy Wallace is constantly described as perfect. What makes her perfect is her unrelenting willingness to compromise for her future spouse.
A misunderstanding about sexual politics leads to a dispute that almost ends the Banks-Mackenzie wedding in Father of the Bride. Annie Banks (Kimberly Williams) believes that her fiance’s pre-wedding gift of a blender is a message about societal roles. When she receives this gift she freaks out, misinterpreting that the gift implies that she is to be a wife above all else. She worries her dreams, and her career will always come second to her duty as Mrs. Mackenzie. Essentially, she dreads the future that Kimmy Wallace fights for. In Father of the Bride a blender is simply a blender. The blender isn’t a message, it isn’t an implication, it is just a gift for someone who loves smoothies. Annie’s response is characterized as an “over-reaction.” Given the cultural history of marriage in America, I would call Annie’s breakdown well informed.
If you are looking to cure the Sunday Saddies or distract yourself from pandemic panic, this is an excellent line-up. While feel good, the batch is problematic as it is alarmingly white, both on screen and off. 3 out of the 4 feature complex, compelling women as the central protagonist. Overall these movies do shed light on problematic expectations of the role of wives, rather than squarely focusing on the fantasy of a wedding. There are some incredible, iconic characters and performances which are worth the watch alone. This selection is easily palatable for a general audience. The messaging isn’t awful – but it isn’t great either. If you are sick of watching movies that focus on the problems of highly privileged people, this is not the category for you.
Other Movies to Watch: My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Wedding Singer, Wedding Crashers, Magnolia, 4 Weddings and a Funeral, Monsoon Wedding, Bridesmaids, 27 Dresses, The Wedding Planner