Wedding, A (1978)

“You know, weddings are the happiest events I could possibly dream of — and yet somehow, when they’re over, it’s always so sad.”

Wedding Poster

Synopsis:
Intrigue and chaos abound at the society wedding of a working-class redhead (Amy Stryker) and her half-Italian fiance (Desi Arnaz Jr.).

Genres:

Review:
A Wedding came about as the result of Altman’s joking comment that perhaps he should film a wedding as his next project; the result, though not all that well received by critics, is one of his most amusing and engaging comedies. Anyone who’s either participated in or planned a wedding knows that glitches and emotional meltdowns are inevitable; here, Altman satirizes this inevitability by simply turning everything up a notch — starting with the concealed death of a matriarch (Lillian Gish) at the beginning of the film, and ending with a fatal car crash. Altman had famously brought 24 characters together for Nashville (1977), and decided (presumably just for kicks) to double this number in A Wedding; naturally, not all these characters get their due, but his masterful interweaving of so many disparate storylines works remarkably well.

Interestingly, the characters one would consider most central to the event — that is, the bride (unknown, braces-clad Amy Stryker) and her groom (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) — are among the most peripheral; only gradually do we learn what brought them together, and they never become fully developed protagonists. While their future happiness is threatened a few times throughout the film — by Arnaz’s former high society girlfriend (Pam Dawber), by Stryker’s wigged-out sister (Mia Farrow), and, later, in an infamous shower scene, by Arnaz’s military academy roommate — this isn’t really the primary thrust of the story; there isn’t one.

The most humorous of the film’s many subplots concerns beefy Pat McCormick’s relentless pursuit of Carol Burnett (mother-of-the-bride) — not out of lust, as we might expect, but from a pure conviction that she is his long-lost soul-mate. While Burnett’s cinematic performances are often (as here) over-the-top, she does a hilarious job showing her character’s gradual shift from absolute lack of comprehension to giddy acceptance of McCormick’s overtures.

Meanwhile, deeper familial dramas (such as Nina Van Pallandt’s drug addiction, and the truth behind her marriage to Vittorio Gassman, who seems to have mafia ties) are handled with both humor and sensitivity. Part of Altman’s genius lies in the way he treats all his characters — no matter how minor — with respect; we sense that each has an interesting story to tell, if only we had the time to spend with them.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A fantastic ensemble cast
    Wedding Ensemble
  • Pat McCormick’s zealous pursuit of Carol Burnett
    Wedding McCormick
  • Vittorio Gassman and Nina Van Pallandt as Mr. and Mrs. Corelli
    Wedding Gassman
  • Howard Duff as lecherous Dr. Meecham
    Wedding Duff
  • Countless unexpected moments of bizarre humor
    Wedding Braces
    Wedding Portrait

Must See?
Yes, as one of Altman’s funniest films.

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One Response to “Wedding, A (1978)”

  1. A thoroughly enjoyable must, yes.

    With his comedies, Altman has certainly made some real dogs (i.e., ‘Beyond Therapy’, anyone?; how he was able to meat-grind that hilarious Broadway script passeth all understanding) – but ‘A Wedding’ shows him in very fine form indeed.

    As in his humdinger ‘Gosford Park’ – which shares certain similarities with this film – Altman here reveals a rich love of actors (in interviews, he stressed the importance of casting the right people) and a deep fascination with the human condition and its details: a favorite ‘detail’ here comes from Howard Duff, who repeatedly pretends to brush away ‘ashes’ from female breasts.

    It’s true that the film really has no story. Character is plot. And that could be why critics didn’t take to it. Of course, the better-received ‘Nashville’ didn’t have a plot either. But it did have the Ronee Blakley character (Barbara Jean), on which everything else hinged (as she came unhinged). With ‘A Wedding’, critics may have been looking for a similar focal point and, not finding it, may have simply considered the film to be lacking.

    [To which I say, feh! It would, of course, be humorous to go through what could be a considerable list of incredible films that critics nevertheless turned on. But aaanywho…]

    There’s not a bad turn among the many performances here. But perhaps the best are given by the luminous Ms. Gish and the very capable Ms. Burnett. As opposed to her by-design work in, say, ‘Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?’, ‘Chu Chu and the Philly Flash’ and (esp.) ‘Annie’, I don’t find Burnett over-the-top here (although she does echo her tv variety show persona in one moment, in a response to Peggy Ann Garner as Candice). I actually find her performance here rather moving, esp. her confession to McCormick at the end.

    The line quoted at the top of the assessment – the film’s final line – is actually quite potent and gives one pause.

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