The original 1950 version of Father of the Bride is meant to be a comedy, but I don't think it's very funny at all. For one, it's basic storyline - a father named Stanley tries to put up with his wife Ellie's and his daughter Kay's "irrational" demands on the eve of Kay's wedding - has been endlessly repeated in various sitcoms in the sixty plus years since this movie originally came out, permanently deadening a premise that was probably promising once upon a time. I know that it's a bit unfair to compare a film to other works that came out after it, but I couldn't help but feel that this film's 90 minute runtime was a bit padded since I was used to seeing this exact story wrapped up in a mere 22 minutes.
Even worse, Father of the Bride's humor isn't that funny because its jokes feel very mean spirited. We're supposed to find Ellie and Kay's wedding fever to be silly and frivolous, but their enthusiasm actually seems pretty sensible from a modern perspective. These two women were expected to be housewives, fully trapped in suburban domesticity, so of course they are going to take a highly domestic affair like a wedding very seriously. After all, it's the only thing that they have any control over, and it might be the only time either of them will be celebrated for years to come. Every time Stanley fights them over a little expense or argues against allowing them a specific indulgence - which is all of the time; he bitches about every dime he has to spend even though he's pretty well off - he's not denying them the one tiny thing, he's debasing their basic worth, because he's exerting his control over the one sphere that he's allowed them to have thus leaving them with nothing.
However, this comedy is still worth watching even if it never once produces a laugh because it is an interesting portrait of how America's ideals about masculinity have evolved. You see, even though everything Stanley says and does makes him look like a total monster, the audience knows that he has a heart of gold because we get to hear his inner monologue, and his buried feelings are much more sympathetic. He really does love Kay, and he really is trying to look out for her - it's just that the only way he knows to express that affection is to constantly berate her for her choices and to try to make her suitors feel unwanted and inferior.
In other words, this movie totally misunderstands its own appeal. It wants to use the distance between Stanley's thoughts and his deeds to create comedic irony, but that doesn't really work - it's hard to laugh at the distance between his open belligerence and his hidden sentimentality once it's indisputably clear that he spends far more time hurting his loved ones than he does appreciating them. No, this film should have used that disconnect in a much more serious way, by using him to analyze how the rigid social expectations of the 50s created schizophrenic jackasses.
Of course, that would turn the movie into a tragedy, because a story about a man whose emotional problems cause him to constantly hurt his family is inherently much sadder than a film about a wacky wedding. However, it would also be a lot more honest. I think that at this point the baby boomers might have gone a little overboard with their films about how restrictive the social values of the 1950s were - God knows that there is no need for another Revolutionary Road or Far From Heaven - but those films do have a point, because there is something inherently destructive about telling men that they aren't allowed to have hearts and telling women that they aren't allowed to have any personal agency. Stanley gets a better deal than any of the other characters because he's the only one who is allowed to express his inner monologue, but even he seems like a sad figure today, because he's a man who is utterly isolated from the people he lives with, and who is regularly thrust into situations where his emotional limitations force him to get into unnecessary fights or embarrass himself.
I try not to impose modern values on old movies, and I don't like to treat stories that are clearly about specific people as if they were manifestos about society as a whole. But Father of the Bride's values are obviously antiquated, and it's hard to watch it now without equating Stanley's limitations with the limitations of the 50s in general. After all, this is a movie about a world where women could only express themselves by picking one wedding dress over another, and where we were supposed to find a man who would berate those women for thinking that choice was important to be utterly reasonable. Although I will give Stanley this much: he is right that wedding cakes are too damn expensive. Seven grand for a single cake? What the fuck, man.
Winner: The Cat