A Comparison of Two Versions of
by Jill W. Bishop
The popular 1991 movie "Father of the Bride" starring Steve Martin is a remake of a 1950 movie of the same name starring Spencer Tracy. The story is about a suburban family and the father's reaction to the surprising news that his only daughter is going to get married. It is an ideal American family: attractive, white, healthy, and affluent, with strong love and respect among family members. When viewing the original version after seeing the recent one, the similarities are very evident. Differences between the two versions appear to be only those attributable to changes in lifestyles in forty-one years and the setting in a different part of the country, outside of Los Angeles rather than New York. The plot, the characters, and progression of scenes are very much alike, and spoken lines are often identical. But a closer look comparing family structure, gender roles, sexuality, racial issues, and societal values shows some lingering 1950s containment values within the updated framework of the 1991 version.
The 1950 family consists of Stanley and Ellie Banks, two younger sons, and daughter Kay who announces her plans to marry Buckley. In the 1991 version, George and Nina Banks live with their younger son and their daughter, Annie, who intends to marry Brian. The families are very similar, including the temperaments of the characters: the father is a worrier, a complainer, excitable, expressive, and a doting parent particularly on his daughter; the mother is the stabilizing one, tolerant, accepting, reasonable, wise, unflappable, patient, and a regular soother of Father; the bride-to-be is an oldest child, assertive, excitable like father but controlled like mother, and clearly an important member of the family; the prospective groom is older (26), mannerly, and already educated and successful in his field; the brothers have minor parts. Both versions are consistent with the 1950s television sitcoms which showed "not the reality of most family lives, but a postwar ideology."1 In that era the strong nuclear family of the suburbs was a change from the extended family support systems provided in earlier times by family farms and ethnic neighborhoods. Neither the 1950 Banks family nor the 1991 Banks family have any grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins sharing this important event in the family, a wedding.
The 1950 Banks family was a normative, ideal family living in the suburbs with a breadwinner father and homemaker mother. Stanley awakens in the middle of the night worrying about whether or not Buckley will make a home for Kay and support her. In the 1991 version, George, like Stanley, still sees the man as carrying the burden of family economic responsibility. Even though Nina Banks has a career, only George worries about the expense of the wedding, expense that he has to pay for, excluding Nina from his concerns. And his pride is ruffled with the suggestion that Brian's family might help pay for the wedding--he can do it himself. So one traditional gender role expectation that remains constant in the two versions is that the husband thinks of himself as the primary breadwinner.
Gender roles are portrayed differently in 1950 and 1991 in many ways throughout the movies. Ellie stays home and greets her husband at the door when he walks in from work each day, whereas Nina runs a successful business. At night, Ellie awakens to a sleepless Stanley and offers to fix him some hot milk. The 1950s woman has a supportive role, waiting on her husband even in the middle of the night. Whereas George does grocery shopping and washes dishes, Stanley is only in the kitchen when making alcoholic drinks at the engagement party. No mention is made of any college or career aspirations for Kay, though her younger brother attends college to become an engineer, but Annie is in graduate school and plans to become an architect.
In 1991 there is not the same family structure and lifestyle that existed in the 1950s when "nearly everyone conformed to a pattern of early marriage and several children."2 Kay told her father, "Buckley says everyone should marry young."3 Stanley and Ellie have three children, George and Nina have only two; Kay intends to marry at 20, Annie at 22.
The dramatic scene in which Kay/Annie calls off the wedding after a big fight with Buckley/Brian is very similar in the two versions. In contrast to his usual bluster about the cost, complexity, and magnitude of the wedding, Father shows his tender feelings toward his daughter when he goes upstairs to her bedroom where she is crying. He assures her that calling off the wedding is no problem, the trouble and expense are nothing, and only her happiness matters. The contrast in the two versions appears with the reason for the bride's anguish: Kay is distraught that Buckley has chosen the unromantic destination of a fishing lodge for their honeymoon, and Annie is appalled that Brian gave her a blender for their eight-month anniversary. Annie tells her father through tears, "What is this, 1958, to give the wife a blender? It scared me, in terms of his expectations. I asked him what this gift was supposed to be telling me. He said nothing, and we got in this big fight."4 Kay wanted romance, but Annie wanted more than a " ...domestic role as the center of [her] identity."5 Their perceptions of their role as a wife were very different.
Sexuality is essentially missing in the earlier version where the only kissing is quick and closed-mouth, demonstrating 1950 as a "...time when the sexual containment ethos was in full force."6 In the scene where Kay and Buckley reconcile after their big fight, they hug and break away repeatedly, a very unsexual encounter, but in the same scene in the 1991 version Annie and Brian kiss passionately in front of Father. The 1950s "...stigma associated with premarital sex..."7 is obviously a thing of the past in 1991 when George acknowledges Annie and Brian's premarital sexual activity with a Freudian slip reminding them to "fasten your condom, I mean seatbelt!"8 The contrast in expression of sexuality in the two versions is apparent even in the furniture: Stanley and Nina sleep in twin beds; George and Nina sleep in a single bed.
The homophobic era of 1950 could never have portrayed men with the effeminate mannerisms of the 1991 wedding coordinators, Franc and Howard. Howard Weinstein, besides being openly gay, is an Asian man with a Jewish name. His composite character serves as a token acknowledgment of the existence of a non-mainstream American populace.
The 1950 version of the movie, like television in the 1950s, shows "a primarily white, upper middle class, comfortable, fashionable, articulate, and healthy cast of characters. . . .This monocultural version of the world is common in popular film."9 The only non-white is Delilah, the Banks' black maid. In the 1991 version, besides Howard, the only other non-white is the domestic servant in Brian's parents' family, a Hispanic woman in uniform. Brian's father introduces her to George in Spanglish with a terrible accent, "Marta, estos son nuestros in-laws, George and Nina Banks." And she replies pleasantly, "Me gusto."10 Like Delilah, she is portrayed as being very happy in her role as a domestic, "...largely masking the strains in race relations."11 In both versions the story is about an idealized American family, so there is no racial conflict, but there are clear lines between the classes, lines drawn by race.
The 1991 version of "Father of the Bride" is truly a remake of the 1950 version. There are concessions to the modern times in styles and references to technology, such as a wife in pants (only in 1991), a carphone, and Brian's explanation of his job to George in computerese. And the relocation of the story to the Los Angeles area from New York makes possible the crisis of snow on the wedding day. But the essentially consistent story line sends the message to the audience that says: times have changed, but they are the same. Women work, and sexuality is freer, but fathers still adore daughters, and a marriage is a major family event. In many ways it reflects the rapidly changing times, but lingering 1950s values exist along side 1990s values. The 1990s are indeed a time of confusion and contradictions in women's roles and expectations, career and family choices, and the conflict is stated early in the 1991 movie when Annie announces her intentions to get married:
George: I thought you didn't believe in marriage. I thought it meant that a woman lost her identity. I thought you wanted to get a job before you settled down so you could earn money and be your own person.
Annie: All right, hold on. I didn't think I believed in marriage--until I met Brian. And Brian's not like any other guy I've ever known. I want to be married to him. And I'm not going to lose my identity with him, because he's not some over powering macho guy. He's like you, Dad, except he's brilliant. He happens to love the fact that I want to be an architect. He wants me to design a house for us to live in. He said he'd move anywhere I got a job. Give me a little credit, George. I'm not going to marry some ape who wants me to wear go-go boots and an apron. I'm telling you, you'll love him. He's a genius. And sweet. And I love him more than anything in the world.12
Annie is as romantic as Kay while clinging to her values as a 1990s liberated woman. After Annie and Brian's big fight about the anniversary gift, he admits that the blender does indicate a 1950s sexual politics, but "it didn't enter my consciousness at the time."13 This is an admission of 1950s sexual politics being part of his subconscious. So men and women alike are struggling to redefine their gender role expectations.
"Father of the Bride" is a very popular movie in both decades because it portrays an ideal, loving, nuclear family at an important time in a family's life. Both versions show "the lives of real-seeming families in real-seeming situations."14 The emphasis on social drinking in the 1950s is replaced with the 1990s greater awareness of health and fitness: George's business is making athletic shoes, and several scenes of father-daughter bonding between George and Annie occur on the basketball court. The basic family structure in 1991 is the same, though shifted to marrying at an older age and having fewer children, and some 1950s traditional gender roles are still present: George alone worries about finances, like Stanley; Nina maintains the family's emotional stability, like Ellie; and liberated Brian, while supporting Annie's career aspirations, still subconsciously sees his wife in the kitchen using the blender he has bought for her. The 1991 Banks family is an idealized American family, a combination of 1950 ideals and 1991 values. Some modern values are shown, such as women with careers and freer sexuality, but the traditional values of the 1950s are still part of the 1990 psyche.
1 Ella Taylor, "TV's Families: Three Generations of Packaged Dreams" Reading Culture: Contexts for Critical Reading and Writing (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992) 451.
2Elaine Tyler May Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1988) 225.
3Father of the Bride, dir. Vincente Minelli, perf. Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, and Elizabeth Taylor, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, 1950.
4 Father of the Bride, dir. Charles Shyer, perf. Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, and Kimberly Williams, Touchstone Pictures, 1991.
5 May 87.
6 May 115.
7 May 114.
8 Father of the Bride 1991.
9Diana George and John Trimbur, eds., Reading Culture: Contexts for Critical Reading and Writing (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992) 442.
10Father of the Bride 1991.
11 Walter Shapiro, "What a Waste of (Prime) Time" Reading Culture: Contexts for Critical Reading and Writing (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992) 448.
12 Father of the Bride 1991.
13 Father of the Bride 1991.
14George and Trimbur 443.
Please Contact Us with comments, questions, corrections and suggestions.
Civic Groups |
Government | City |
Library | Chamber