A cheerful, vibrant and culturally precise reimagining of Father Of The Bride—Both the elegant 1950 original and 1991’s hilarious remake — Gaz Alazraki’s new version starts with a melancholic undercurrent. As the father of the hour, wealthy and sought-after Florida architect Billy Herrera (Andy Garcia) guides the viewer across a sweet journey of sepia-tinted photographs and grainy home videos, reminiscing in voiceover on his proud past as a hardworking Cuban immigrant who built a prosperous life out of nothing.
Billy’s memories are chiefly about his amorous marriage with his dear wife Ingrid (Gloria Estefan), a loving and equally industrious spouse. And while you are acutely aware of the slight lament in his voice throughout this happily-ever-after sequence, the sudden change to present day — with the prickly and miserable duo now facing a couples therapist — still lands as a shock. It’s an unexpected tonal shift that swiftly asks the viewer to surrender to a fresh remake with novel ideas, one that pledges to forge its own path towards a winsome romantic comedy that celebrates matrimonial bliss and hard-wearing familial bonds despite the odds stacked against them.
Indeed, Alazraki and screenwriter Matt Lopez give us a daring and sophisticated template from the get-go, redefining the tried-and-true notion at the center of Father Of The Bride through a diverse Latinx lens with verve and smarts. Here, the traditional dad figure tormented by his daughter’s fast-approaching (and very expensive) wedding not only has to come to terms with his offspring’s assertive womanhood and autonomy, but also needs to unlearn his old ways as a conventional husband and discover what it takes to be a good life partner in a modern era where patriarchy is not a definitive ideal. But can Bill pull all that off against a ticking clock, and meet Ingrid at the mutually receptive and adventurous life she wants to lead going forward?
Insisting on divorce for entirely valid reasons — imagine a well-off retirement-age husband who won’t as much as go to Greece with you — the level-headed Ingrid does not think so. But the duo decide to keep their impending separation a secret anyway, once their dear Sofia (Adria Arjona) returns from NYU Law with a promising Mexico-based offer under her belt and announces her engagement to Adan Castillo (Diego Boneta), an heir to a beer dynasty and a lovably granola city dweller raised by his ultra-rich, larger-than-life Mexican parents Hernan and Marcela (Pedro Damián and Laura Harring, respectively).
Also in the chaotic picture is Sofia’s polar-opposite sister Cora (Isabela Merced), an aspiring designer who, instead of going to college, yearns to launch her own progressive fashion line. And what high-profile wedding would be complete without a hectic wedding planner? Here, the honors belong to Chloe Fineman’s Natalie Vance, a social-media-famous influencer-type pitched somewhere between a well-meaning yet clueless outsider and a cringey white lady who could be a scammer; it’s a tricky tightrope Fineman owns with a healthy dose of laughs.
It’s surely a crowded canvas. But Alazraki and Lopez joyfully melt all the ingredients into a hearty hotpot of generational clash, cultural conflict, patriarchal one-upmanship and domestic chaos, allowing the uniqueness of both the Cuban and Mexican cultures to shine through in their Latinx tapestry, rendered through production designer Kim Jennings’ sumptuous sets. Closer in essence to Spencer Tracy’s caustically nonchalant dad than Steve Martin’s frenzied persona, Garcia makes the titular part very much his own through his organic screen charisma, matched by Estefan’s marvelous turn as a headstrong woman unafraid to follow her heart’s desires.
Also enriching the picture is the sisterly bond between Cora and Sofia, two inspiring young women who become a little closer to one another as they grow to appreciate and enable each other’s differences. The end result of all this is a little My Big Fat Greek Wedding and a little Crazy Rich Asians in spirit; an opulent package elevated by costume designer Caroline Eselin Schaefer’s lavish work — Sofia’s midriff-baring suits are especially stunning — composer Terence Blanchard’s rich score of jazzy rhythms and cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo’s committed lens that advances the film’s stormy finale through dizzyingly mazy, single- take camerawork.
But the real heart-warmer of the saga is Billy and Adan’s eventual bonding, with the former learning from the latter about the kind of demeanor a contemporary husband should aspire to. It’s a development that flips the script on the previous movies, convincingly asserting that the young can be right about a thing or two as well, as well as the notion that children of sacrificing immigrants are (or should be) allowed to follow their own dreams . This lovely detail makes up for some of the film’s shortcomings elsewhere, such as the script’s frustrating tiptoeing around Cora’s sexual orientation and attraction to a bridesmaid. The suggestion is there, but it almost feels like some forces in studio meeting rooms are secretly hoping that you will not notice it. Surely, not every gay story has to be a heteronormative coming-out story. But in the traditional world that Cora dwells in, the hush-hush coyness on display feels like a misstep.
Make no mistake however: This Father of the Bride is still a best-case-scenario for a remake, an affectionately specific and glowingly universal take on a classic that walks down a familiar aisle with something new to say.