A Wedding

Robert Altman developed a unique, instantly recognizable style that no one has ever come close to imitating well, with his enormous ensemble casts, consciously sloppy camera work and fly-on-the-wall sound design. Sometimes, that organized chaos ends up in a mess of a film Altman himself can’t save, like Prêt-à-Porter, and sometimes it ends up as a masterpiece, like Short Cuts.

What makes A Wedding such a great find is that it’s a quintessential Altman film in that regard, yet one that’s been completely forgotten since it first came out in 1978. To my mind, it’s sharper and funnier than Nashville, his supposedly best film, though it’s also a darker and more vicious satire on a sacred institution you’re not supposed to skewer, which might be the reason for its obscurity. Not a lot of people want to be told that the thing they’ve invested thousands of dollars and months of stress and planning is, in actuality, a complete farce.

And yet it so is, in many obvious ways. A Wedding locks its targets on a very specific milieu: Christian, Southern, White Nouveau Riche culture, and all the classism, racism, and whatever other -ism you can imagine that carries. But while the satire might seem dated and of its time, no longer relevant to today, what makes A Wedding such a satisfying view is how much of the universal human comedy Altman manages to capture- the names have been changed, but the guilt, blame and shame remain the same.

The premise is as simple and sitcomish as it gets: a nice, Southern White Girl marries a rich Southern military boy… oh, except he’s actually half Italian, and maybe those Italians have some mob connections, oh, and the matriarch of the family decides to die that very same morning, and maybe someone’s pregnant who shouldn’t be, and, well, it just keeps unraveling from there. You have to admire how well-crafted the film is- you are thrown into the middle of a wedding between two families, no explanation as to whom anyone is or how they’re all related, and yet slowly, you’re able to make sense of every person’s story as the film goes on. Some characters, like the lecherous doctor who manages to cop a feel from several young women’s breasts throughout the day are basically there for the gag. Others, such as Carol Burnett’s “Tulip” character (mother of the bride) tap into deeper dissatisfactions that even women today, despite the much more liberated culture we supposedly live in, can still connect with.

It’s a great cast: not just Burnett, but Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley, Tim Thomerson, Dennis Christopher and even Pam “Mindy” Dawber all shine, as do about a thousand other people that all contribute to the crazy mix of subplots weaving in and out of this often hilarious critique. Altman’s films often feel like scripted documentaries, half-improvised and half-finely woven. In the case of A Wedding, the final quilt he weaves leaves a savory, hilarious impression.


2 thoughts on “A Wedding

  1. Maybe my favorite Altman film. Your comments are totally on point. Sharper and funnier than Nashville – yes indeed. You say “not a lot of people want to be told…”, you got that right which explains a box office debacle. If you want to see a dark comedy that says American culture is a fraud, you will find that this film’s message is timeless.


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