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Wedding Films Are About More Than Getting Married

Jul 2, 2013
Originally published on July 3, 2013 7:22 am

With the Supreme Court weighing in on gay marriage, can Hollywood be far behind?

Filmmakers often use wedding movies to address issues like commitment and family dysfunction, says Los Angeles Times film writer Steven Zeitchik.

We talk to Zeitchik about movies including “The Wedding Banquet,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Bridesmaids,” “Father of the Bride,” “Rachel Getting Married” and “The Graduate.”


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It's HERE AND NOW. So when will art begin to imitate life? The Supreme Court has weighed in on gay marriage. Can Hollywood be far behind? In Ang Lee's 1993 movie "The Wedding Banquet," a Taiwanese man lives happily with his American lover in Manhattan but can't bring himself to tell his parents he's gay. They keep trying to set him up with a Chinese woman. In this scene, the young man make a list of impossible requirements for the ideal Chinese bride just to keep the parents occupied.


WINSTON CHAO: (as Wai-Tung Gao) She must have a Ph.D.

MITCHELL LICHTENSTEIN: (as Simon) No, two Ph.D.s.

CHAO: (as Wai-Tung Gao) One in Physics.

LICHTENSTEIN: (as Simon) And she should be an opera singer.

CHAO: (as Wai-Tung Gao) And six-feet tall.

LICHTENSTEIN: (as Simon) Oh, let's not go overboard. She's Chinese after all. Five-foot-nine.

YOUNG: Well, of course, that strategy doesn't work. Comedy and heartbreak ensue, a common thread in wedding films, which are a genre unto themselves and often a way of talking about something else. That's our subject today with Steven Zeitchik. He covers film for the Los Angeles Times. And, Steven, just briefly, do you think or have you heard that there are gay wedding films in the pipeline?

STEVEN ZEITCHIK: You know, it's an interesting point. There have been obviously some movies that deal with gay rights and gay-themed issues in recent years, maybe most notably in 2008. We had "Milk, which, of course, looked at Harvey Milk and the whole battle for gay rights that began, in his case, the 1970s. And so there have been these kinds of movies percolating.

I think what we're going to start to see, if not movies that deal explicitly with the subject the way "The Wedding Banquet" does, characters and gay marriage start to work its way into even mainstream romantic comedies, which, you know, by and large, until now we haven't seen.

YOUNG: It's funny. I'm thinking, as we look at just wedding films in general, in the 1994 "Four Weddings and a Funeral," the gay couple in that film have the most long-lasting committed relationship.

ZEITCHIK: Well, that's exactly right, and that's where, you know, obviously, that's an independent film, a British film, did very well here. But I think, you know, as is often the case, we see foreign films, independent films start to make inroads. And soon enough, Hollywood will catch up, though it's certainly taken some time.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well - and, by the way, here's Hugh Grant who plays the central character in "Four Weddings and a Funeral." He's the guy who gets invited to all the weddings but never gets married and is always giving the best man speech instead. Here's one.


HUGH GRANT: (as Charles) I am, as ever, in bewildered awe of anyone who makes this kind of commitment that Angus and Laura have made today. I know I couldn't do it, and I think it's wonderful they can.

YOUNG: Well, and commitment issues are a big, you know, laugh line in wedding films. Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson played the wedding crashers in the movie of the same name. In this scene, Owen Wilson's character has been to so many weddings. He can predict what the presents are.


RACHEL MCADAMS: (as Claire Cleary) What's that one?

OWEN WILSON: (as John Beckwith) Knife set, German, very nice.

MCADAMS: (as Claire Cleary) Hmm. And that?

WILSON: (as John Beckwith) Cotton linens, Egyptian.

MCADAMS: (as Claire Cleary) Oooh. What about that?

WILSON: (as John Beckwith) Oh, I'll go all day. Place settings, candlesticks, crystal stemware, which they'll probably never use because it's crystal stemware.

ZEITCHIK: "Wedding Crashers" are really interesting example because it comes about 10 years, 11 years after "Four Weddings in a Funeral" and in many ways deals with the same subject. You know, these are men who can't commit, who often find themselves at weddings, which is, of course, a symbol of commitment.

And I think what's interesting though is that that movie where it sort of still thread on the subject of, you know, how much are men really - how much do they want commitment? How much are they willing to step up and admit that publicly, and how long does it take them to get there?

And I think that in the time between "Four Weddings in a Funeral" and "Wedding Crashers" we saw a bit of an evolution in, you know, willingness to talk about these subjects. And, of course, "Wedding Crashers" is a very comedic film. David Dobkin, a well-known comedy director. And Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, very successful and effective comedic personalities. But I think what that movie did is really show that even in a comedic way, we were able to address some of these issues.

YOUNG: Well, you know, you got me thinking that you wonder if there is a gay-themed wedding with that same storyline, with the gay-rights movement fighting for so many decades for the right to marry. How fun if one of the early films was about somebody who are in a funny way didn't want to get married.


ZEITCHIK: Well, absolutely. And that's - it's funny you say that because I think one of the ideas that's going to percolated as this is going to bubble to the top of the news is we've seen all the couples that have been in long-term relationships and really want to be married.

But I think what we haven't heard from, and people in the gay community will say this all time, is that they deal with the same issues about commitment and monogamy as the straight community does. And we haven't seen that side of it. Knowing Hollywood and knowing some of its comedic filmmakers, they'll find a way to mine that I'm sure in pretty short order.

YOUNG: I know that, Steve, in movies is that women now get to play the roles previously played by men. And that's the wacky bridesmaids in the film of the same name. This is a 2011 Kristen Wiig film. She co-wrote, she stars as the maid of honor who gets more out of control as the wedding approaches. Here is the scene where she takes a drink and just a few drugs to relax for a plane flight for the girls' getaway. It does not go well.


KRISTEN WIIG: (as Annie Walker) (Singing) I'm excited and I feel relaxed and I'm ready to party with the best of them.

YOUNG: Again, there's sort of a little role reversal there in that movie.

ZEITCHIK: There really is. And I think "Bridesmaids," just as "Wedding Crashers," kind of started to talk about some of these issues, about commitment and monogamy and weddings with men, we had the same thing with women, again, in a very comedic context.

And Kristen Wiig, of course, plays a woman whose best friend is getting married and she is dealing with some of these issues herself. Should she be with this guy she had just met? Should she continue in a more kind of independent, single lifestyle?

And so, again, something that took a little bit of time for Hollywood to get to. And even when it did get to, it did it in a very comedic way. But it was also a very popular and successful film, which I think shows that these are issues that really is on everyone - are on everyone's mind. And "Bridesmaids" just kind of channel it.

YOUNG: When you start thinking of wedding films, it's amazing how many there are. There's Spencer Tracy's "Father of the Bride," the original, the 1950 film. And he's, you know, worried about how much the wedding is going to cost, which is very funny. He talks about $85 for an orchestra. Whoa, huge amount.

But then 2008's "Rachel Getting Married," much more modern view. And Hathaway stars as Kym, who gets out of rehab in time for her sister Rachel's wedding. And in this scene, uses a rehearsal dinner speech to make amends.


ANNE HATHAWAY: (as Kym) I've been a nightmare, you've been a saint. And I'm really just so damn glad to be here with you, and Sidney's family, and our family, and just everyone's together. And I'm just - it really great. It's just - so I am hereby raising my seltzer to my laudatory sister and herewith making amends.

ZEITCHIK: One of the things that's remarkable about Jonathan Demme's film and Anne Hathaway's performance in it, you've got all this sort of pathos that is built up in all these people and all these resentments as well. And the wedding just becomes a place to channel it. I think it evokes, as it does for many of us in real life, all sorts of issues about family, about siblings, about our own relationships.

And it's really rare I think to find in any kind of mainstream movie a frank discussion of this in a way that isn't sort of veiled by comedy. And I think that movie does it and that scene in particular, vulnerable, heartbreaking, honest, it really does it in spades.

YOUNG: OK. We know one last note you want to make - a shout-out to what you say is either the greatest or worst wedding scene ever. It's a classic, 1967 "The Graduate." Dustin Hoffman stopping Elaine's wedding, running down, banging on the doors of the church.


DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (as Benjamin Braddock) Elaine, Elaine, Elaine.

ZEITCHIK: Well, I think what's so interesting about that scene is it really takes it from the perspective of people who are not in the wedding. I think normally and even in the, you know, 45 years since that we've seen weddings on film, that usually people who are involved, you know, in the wedding - it's the bride, it's the groom, it's the family.

And I think with this, it's someone from the outside but someone from the outside who is - and witness, too, whether and invited witness or unintentional or uninvited one to that wedding. And I think what it does is it sort of puts us in that position where we're able to see it from the outside.

And, you know, again, I think it's one of the best scenes because it gives us that perspective. It's maybe one of the worst because it kind of upends our notions of what should be happening at a wedding and all the kind of organization that goes into it. So it's a great scene from a filmmaking standpoint. I think you could just store up feelings of both knowing agreement or maybe knowing discomfort.

YOUNG: Yeah, discomfort. We've been talking wedding films with Los Angeles Times film writer Steven Zeitchik. Steven, a pleasure as always.

ZEITCHIK: Thanks for having me.


SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: (Singing) Hello darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again...

YOUNG: And, Jeremy, I think if someone was considering a wedding, we might have just scared them off with some of those films.


YOUNG: "The Graduate" also gave us the great Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack so, of course, we're going to play a little of it.


And this is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR, Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.