By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Guests at wedding party.
Muffin (Amy Stryker) marries Dino (Desi Arnaz Jr.) at a wedding ceremony that is non-eventful. However, during the reception afterwards, held at the mansion of Dino’s family, the Correllis, everything begins to go wrong including having the family’s elderly matriarch, Nettie (Lillian Gish) promptly die just as the guests arrive. Snooks (Paul Dooley) and Tulip (Carol Burnett) are the parents of the bride, while Buffy (Mia Farrow) is Muffin’s jealous older sister. During the party Buffy lets Dino know that she’s pregnant with his baby, which sends the family into an uproar once word gets out. Meanwhile Mack (Pat McCormick), the cousin of the groom, makes it known that he’s ‘madly in-love’ with Tulip and wishes to have an affair with her. Tulip at first resists, but then devises a scheme where the two can meet in 2-weeks, at a location in Tallahassee, Florida under the ruse that Tulip will be going to visit her sister who lives there.
While director Robert Altman made some great movies and revolutionized movie-making with his over-lapping conversations technique, he did also produce a few duds. Most of them came during the 70’s when he was given too much free rein to make whatever he wanted in however way he wanted to do it, which culminated in a lot of over-indulgence. This one though, which came right in the middle of his down cycle, is one of his better efforts The idea came as an accident as he was tired of being hounded by a reporter asking, while he was still working on finishing up on 3 Women, what his next project would-be and he joked that he was set to ‘film a wedding’, which at the time had come into vogue for people to shoot the weddings of their family members in a home movie style. Later that night, after speaking with the reporter, he partook in a drinking session with the crew of 3 Women, where they discussed the possibilities of making a movie about a wedding where ‘everything would go wrong’ and by the end of the night he had already come-up with an outline for his script.
This film though, like with all of Altman’s movies, does come with its share of detractors. Gene Siskel in particular did not like the characters, who I admit are a cliche of the nouveau riche and too easy a satirical target. He also complained that there was no one likable, which is true, though films where one person in a large group somehow manages to rise-above-the-fray and being morally virtuous when all the rest aren’t, is unrealistic and having an amoral climate such as here where everyone gets dragged down to the same level as everyone else makes more sense.
The edginess of the comedy is dated as well as what was considered ‘pushing-the-envelope’ at the time, like introducing the characters who are secretly gay, smoke marijuana on the sly, have had multiple sex partners, or (gasp) had sex outside of marriage, is no longer even remotely the scandal, even amongst the most conservative, as it once was, so to enjoy the film one must put themselves in that time period to totally appreciate it. With that said, it still works beautifully. It’s amazing, when considering the massive amount of characters and intersecting story-lines, how well it flows and it’s never confusing, nor do you ever lose track of any of the characters, or their issues, even if they’ve not been shown for a while. The humor gets exaggerated just enough for comic effect, but always within the realms of reality, which is what I really enjoyed about it, is that this could easily remind people of their own real-life weddings, and wedding parties, that they’ve been through.
The cast is splendid and perfectly game to the script’s demands with many of them allowed to freely ad-lib. Howard Duff probably gets the most laughs as the chain-drinking doctor of a dubious quality and Viveca Lindfors as a caterer who becomes ill, takes a pill, and then breaks-out into a loud song during the reception. Burnett is superb as a middle-aged housewife looking for more excitement in her life while also juggling the difficulties of raising a promiscuous daughter and Paul Dooley is quite enjoyable as her brash, and never shy to speak-his-mind husband. I also got a kick out of Amy Stryker, who was cast on-the-spot simply because she wore braces and resembles a young Burnett in many ways and was therefore perfect to play her daughter. Though the ultimate scene stealer is Mia Farrow, who although well into her 30’s at the time, looks amazingly still adolescent-like and pulls off the part of a young daughter quite convincingly. She utters very few words, but makes up for it with her shocking topless scene (she looks great) and the bit where she openly tries to count everyone she has slept with to the stunned silence of the others, including her parents, in the room.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: September 12, 1978
Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes
Director: Robert Altman
Studio: 20th Century Fox