' ' Cinema Romantico: At the Movies: A Walk Through Cinematic Weddings

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

At the Movies: A Walk Through Cinematic Weddings

Years ago, during a casual discussion about “The Deer Hunter”, a friend of mine said that his first go with Michael Cimino’s magnum opus left him wondering why the wedding scene was so long until it gradually dawned on him that the wedding scene’s duration essentially encapsulated every wedding he had ever attended. I agreed. But then, the “movies is magic”, as Gregory Hines memorably observed in “History of the World Part 1”, and so even if I do not object to the wedding scene in “The Deer Hunter” on its own terms, I wonder if authenticity is exactly what we want from our movie weddings. Wouldn’t we want something bigger and bolder? Wouldn’t we want something to channel the preposterousness that wedding planners and relatives cum wedding planners would never allow? Wouldn’t we want something like the ending of “Blue Hawaii”, with the King floating down Wailua River aboard a tropical flower adorned canoe and serenading Joan Blackman with the Hawaiian Wedding Song? (And which you, prospective movie-obsessed bride and groom, can sort of re-create for the low, low price of $2,495 to $3,795!)

Maybe you wouldn’t want something like the end of “Blue Hawaii”, and that’s okay, but this is my blog, not yours. And I might want something like the end of “Blue Hawaii”, or at least like the end of “Honeymoon in Vegas”, because if you can’t get real Elvis then several Elvis impersonators keeping watch like a heavenly host is the next best thing. But then again, that is probably not what I would want. No, I would probably want something more like the wedding in “Rachel Getting Married”, apart from all the pre-familial drama, of course, though that, it goes without saying, is part and parcel, in varying amounts, to any rite of nuptials. That wedding was a multicultural celebration with big hunks of meat on plates passed around the backyard, Anita Sarko (RIP) as the D.J., and the groomsmen opting out of matching attire to instead don clothes as a reflection of their own individual souls; take your tux fittings out to the wedding planning trash.

I would be remiss, however, if I failed to mention my favorite Will Smith wedding. No, not the impromptu ceremony at Area 51 – just like every little girl’s dream – in “Independence Day” between his Air Force Captain and Vivica A. Fox’s, uh, adult dancer (but very nice person), which sort of doubles as a two-for-one wedding since ace cable repairman David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and Press Secretary Constance Spano (Margaret Colin), acting as witnesses, sort of rekindle their own defunct marriage in the background at the same time. That is a wonderful movie wedding, undoubtedly, and yet I, avowed cinema fan, constantly, annoyingly blathering about how I only watch a couple TV shows and absolutely no more, dammit, have long considered Peak Dream Wedding to have taken place on episode 117 of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire.”

You know, when Will (Smith) and Lisa (Nia Long) elope to Las Vegas against the wishes of their parents and find themselves on the precipice of getting hitched in a “Shaft”-themed wedding featuring, per sweeps month criteria, a stellar guest turn in the form of Isaac Hayes as the officiant. At that point in my life, I had not even seen “Shaft” nor attended a wedding, but I clearly remember thinking to myself in this scene’s aftermath, “That. That’s what I want my wedding to be.” Google wasn’t around in 1995 but if it had been I probably would have Googled: Las Vegas Last of the Mohicans Themed Weddings.

Of course, the “Shaft” wedding goes awry on account of Isaac Hayes’s relentless interruptions and backup singers that keep trampling the groom’s attempts to recite his vows with their vocal flourishes, prompting Will and Lisa to flee with the would-be groom giving the officiant a piece of his mind on the way out (“Your Isaac Hayes impression STINKS!”). It’s funny stuff, sure, but it also inherently exposes a fundamental truth — that is, the ceremonial pomp and circumstance is weightless if you don’t speak the words, and if the words spoken are not filled with love and meaning.

That was addressed in a very Wes Andersonian way in the finicky auteur’s “Moonrise Kingdom” by Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman), the Falcon Scout Legionnaire running Supply & Resources, who is enlisted to oversee the wedding of the teenage protagonists, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman). Says Ben to the aspiring newlyweds: “I can’t offer you a legally binding union. It won’t hold up in the state, the county, or, frankly, any courtroom in the world due to your age, lack of a license, and failure to get parental consent – but the ritual does carry a very important moral weight within yourselves.” He then tells them to go off to the side and consider what it is they are about to do.

Anderson sets this shot beside a trampoline, which is nominally quirky but deceptively deep, childhood ceding to something akin to young adulthood. Suzy and Sam do have a ceremony not long after, but it feels deliberately perfunctory to what comes before, the direct result of consideration rather than an ill-considered flight of faux-marital fancy.

You sort of see this harsh truth in the light of “Jerry Maguire.” The film cuts straight from the eponymous sports agent’s (Tom Cruise) spur of the moment proposal to Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) to their wedding, but director Cameron Crowe films the actual ceremony by keeping the camera entirely affixed to Dorothy’s six year old son, Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), the ring-bearer, standing down below Jerry and Dorothy, betraying that the little dude is the whole reason they are getting hitched in the first place. And so even if their small-time backyard wedding earns its keep, a little less Isaac Hayes, a little more Marvin Gaye, seen in a comically exemplary shot sliding from left to right and past a mariachi band to find Jerry’s best man (and only client) Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) belting out “What’s Going On”, the union is doomed because of the bride and groom’s refusal to consider the ritual’s moral weight.

In another Cameron Crowe joint, the legendary “Elizabethtown”, the moral weight of the wedding is not conveyed but implied. In a movie filled with obvious juxtapositions, the most obvious might be that Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), in Louisville for his father’s funeral, is staying at the Brown Hotel right next door to Chuck Hasboro (Jed Rees), who is there for his wedding to Cindy. Though this might suggest a parallel romantic crisis to Drew’s own romantic and personal and romantic crises, Chuck and Cindy are copacetic. Indeed, Chuck is really just Buddha in a bathrobe, offering Drew encouragement and enlightenment, free of any dramatic mountain to scale because he has already achieved contentment.

That notion comes home in Crowe’s deliberate refusal to show us Chuck and Cindy’s wedding even though it looms so large. In that way, their wedding evokes the apartment of Cosmo Kramer in so much as it was never shown because its awesomenimity was unmeasurable and therefore impossible to properly visually express. At the same time, however, keeping the ceremony off screen works as an intrinsic reminder that a wedding, ornate or uncomplicated or points in-between, is only as festive and indelible as the love and meaning of the union itself. We don’t need to see the wedding to know it will rock its guests like a hurricane.

We don’t see the wedding in “True Romance” either. Maybe that’s because Alabama (Patricia Arquette) and Clarence (Christian Slater) tie the knot in a Detroit marriage court, or maybe because their delightful, calypso-assisted post-wedding walk down the aisle, in a manner of speaking, is more than enough. Whatever wish fulfillment flaws that romance might have as written by Quentin Tarantino, as played and presented by director Tony Scott in this moment, it pops, literally, with the pink of Clarence’s sport coat and Alabama’s dress and purse contrasting against the gray of the courthouse and the ickiness of the leftover snow, like phosphorescence in the depths of the ocean.

I always think of this wedding because Clarence’s hero is Elvis, and whereas Elvis’s wedding in “Blue Hawaii” is as lavish as they come, here it is as small as can be, and yet the amorous infusion is no less or different. So many movie weddings are so basic in their opulence, production designers copying and pasting from paint by the numbers wedding mags rather than thinking outside the box. But then, maybe so many weddings at the movies are merely flavorless rituals because the movies themselves too often proffer mere ersatz love, failing to make us believe in forever after.

Clarence’s hero might be Elvis but I suddenly find myself thinking of Paul McCartney: in the end, the love you take, is equal to the wedding you make.

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