|Amy Stryker as bride, Muffin Brenner|
|Desi Arnaz, Jr. as groom, Dino Corelli|
|Silent screen star Lillian Gish as Nettie Sloan, family matriarch and keeper of all secrets|
|Mia Farrow as Buffy Brenner, sister of the bride with a doozy of a secret|
Thus, when in 1977 it was announced that Altman’s A Wedding was going to be a return to the all-star, multi-character, overlapping-dialog formula he had more or less patented with Nashville (but somehow failed to pull off with Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson), expectations were understandably high. Alas, perhaps too high.
|Katherine "Tulip" Brenner (Carol Burnett) finds herself the object of in-law Mackenzie Goddard's (Pat McCormick) extravagant affections|
|Socialite Clarice Sloan (Virginia Vestoff) and Sloan household manager, Randolph (Cedric Scott) have been secretly involved for years|
|To wed wealthy Regina Sloan (Nina Van Pallandt) Italian waiter Luigi Corelli (Vittorio Gassman) has had to deny his past. Regina, following the difficult birth of their twins, has become a drug addict.|
|High-strung nurse Janet Shulman (Beverly Ross) tries unsuccessfully to keep Antionette Sloan-Goddard (Dina Merrill) in the dark about a death in the family.|
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM:
I saw A Wedding on opening day in 1978. In a nearly empty theater in Hollywood I sat through A Wedding two times in a row, obviously in the minority in finding it to be a delightfully funny film that was even a little touching. (Note: Given the sheer number of characters and stories one has to keep straight, A Wedding is a film that actually plays out better and feels less frenetic with repeat viewings.) As satire, A Wedding is too superficial and broadly farcical to compete with Nashville’s more thoughtful and expansive delineation of America's politics as show business lunacy; but its ensemble comedy-of-humiliation predates the family dysfunction of television’s Arrested Development (including that program’s non-stop, full-frame activity that demands your constant attention), just as the camera’s penchant for capturing characters in moments of unobserved vulnerability anticipates today’s reality TV craze and the mockumentary style of Christopher Guest & Co. (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, For Your Consideration).
Altman’s movies tend to be exceptionally well-cast. I’m not sure how he did it, but he seemed to be capable of casting “to type” and “against type” simultaneously. In this chaotic, culture clash merging of the working-class millionaire Brenner family of Kentucky with the inherited-wealth Sloans of Illinois society, Altman makes things infinitely easier for us viewers by having the Brenner’s somewhat anemic-looking strawberry blonde and redhead family contrasted sharply with the reedy platinum and gold cool of the Sloans. Wittily, all the actors are cast in groups that believably look as if they could actually be related (Carol Burnett, Dennis Christopher, Mia Farrow, and the wonderful Amy Stryker are a particularly inspired example).
The actors all “look” like the types they’re supposed to embody, but Altman’s well-chronicled technique of getting actors to develop their own characterizations through improvisation and experimentation result in many amusing and surprising twists.
|Geraldine Chaplin is superb as Rita Billingsly, the stressed out wedding planner|
THE STUFF OF FANTASY:
A Wedding has been criticized by some for being plotless, but to my eye, contriving a situation wherein a wildly divergent group of people are forced to interact in ways both formally ritualized and circumstantially familiar, is very nearly an irresistible recipe for all manner of human drama. Plot structure can impose a sort of order to the messy business of life that may well be comforting to audiences, but isn't always necessary. Sometimes a free-form film that exposes human foibles and follies without attempting to ascribe to such behavior meanings or patterns beyond those interpreted by the viewer, can in many instances provide a far more rewarding experience.
|Ladies in Waiting|
Mona Abboud, Marta Heflin, and Lesley Rogers check out the males
|Society doctor, Howard Duff, casually dispenses "feel good" drugs to ailing wedding caterer,Viveca Lindfors|
|Pam Dawber (here with Gavan O'Herlihy) made her film debut in A Wedding, playing a character 360 degrees away from her Mork & Mindy TV persona. Two years later, Mork himself (Robin Williams) would make his film debut in Altman's Popeye.|
THE STUFF OF DREAMS:
A Wedding is a consummate example of Robert Altman's "comedy of proximity." He starts with a wide-angle view of some slice of Americana...a view glimpsed just far enough away so that we can comfortably impose upon these familiar people and situations, our preconceived notions about them.
As Altman systematically draws us into closer proximity to the people (individuals we thought we "knew" by way of cultural stereotyping), we are forced to confront the fact that few of the people and almost none of the events are as we assumed them to be. The beautiful turn out to be pretty monstrous; the self-satisfied, the most delusional; the ones least suspected of having any value are in fact the most authentic. As layers of pretense and self-concealing facades are eroded away (through comedy that often strips characters of their thin veneer of dignity) it becomes obvious that after being made to confront all we thought we knew about these people at the start of the film, we're left being made more keenly aware than ever, that in the end they are all just human. Not in any way different from us and the people we know. No better, no worse.
|Robert Altman's biggest joke is how easily the bride and groom turn out to be the least important people at A Wedding|
A Wedding ranks high on my list of favorite Robert Altman films. Its humor and take-no-prisoners view of humanity an acquired taste, to be sure. But it shows off Altman in particularly fine form, and it's a film that can still make me laugh out loud just as sure as its melancholy conclusion never fails to touch me. It's not Nashville, and it's not Gosford Park...but it's a worthy saga that falls (pratfalls, would be more like it) somewhere blissfully in between.
THE AUTOGRAPH FILES:
Copyright © Ken Anderson
THE AUTOGRAPH FILES:
|Carol Burnett dwarfed by the statuesque Ann Ryerson (as Victoria, a member of the Sloan family who wears a Greek toga and inexplicably addresses everyone in terrible French), and the lovesick Pat McCormick|
|Ann Ryerson - 1978|
Inscription: "I'm more excited than you that you recognized me! I'm happy to sign this!"
|Pam Dawber - 1980|
Copyright © Ken Anderson