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The Son of the Bride (Juan Jose Campanella) 2002

 

    Itís not terribly surprising that Argentinean Juan Jose Campanellaís The Son of the Bride was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar by the same Academy that dubbed the mediocre feel-good drivel A Beautiful Mind Best Picture, but it is somewhat disappointing. A perfect example of rancid, well-intentioned, but shamelessly manipulative movie making, the filmís horrible premise, in which an overly sentimental old codger with too much time on his hands subjects his Alzheimerís-stricken wife to a second wedding, pushes the limits of good taste under the pretext of good intentions. By comparison to this travesty, Iris, the Judi Dench senility weepie, looks like an exercise in restraint. Perhaps, in South America thereís a different perspective toward the mentally ill, but to my American sensibilities, the ordeal that they intend to put Norma, the bride of the title, through seem entirely sadistic.

 

    Certainly some of the filmís bad taste springs from the lack of definition given to either Norma or the other charactersí memories of her. Conflicting information arises, comparing her sometimes to a saint and sometimes to an overbearing harpy, and in her current state, weíre unable to make any sort of judgment of her. The movie shamelessly mines laughs out of her senility, repeatedly showing her as she curses like a sailor in public places. This alone is absolutely cringe-worthy, but when coupled with the movieís tendency to have her snap into a state of coherence so she can smile whenever the film needs a heart touching moment, it becomes unbearable. It doesnít help much that the rest of the cast seems to be composed of self-delusional, self-involved jerks. The movie expects us to pity their bad behavior early on so we can be moved by their cathartic journey toward enlightenment, but I never could get over how self-centered they were in the first place.

    For all of my complaints against The Son of the Bride, I can recognize that itís competently, if anonymously made, and certainly the acting is better than average (with the exception of the protagonistís best friend, who seems to be Benigni-lite). Still, these concessions donít really deter my extreme unease with the filmís premise nor its utter lack of subtlety. Perhaps itís appropriate on some level that a film that so unashamedly distorts the sickness of senility to its own ends also requires the audience to shut off their brains to eke any enjoyment out of it. For those unable, or unwilling, to do that simply to be moved, it offers little.

 

* 

3/26/02 

Jeremy Heilman