Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Runaway Bride(groom)

As America prepares to go gaga over the latest British royal wedding, I’ve been pondering marriage at the movies. There’s nothing Hollywood likes better than cinematic nuptials, partly because of the comic possibilities raised by unflattering bridesmaid dresses, men in penguin suits, a large gooey cake, and relatives on both sides who have no earthly use for one another. See (among many prime examples) Lovers and Other Strangers, Monsoon Wedding, and Rachel Getting Married, all films in which a young couple’s love somehow survives all the tensions surrounding the nuptial day. Above all, a wedding is a time for romantic hope—a thing all the more beautiful because we know how easily it can be dashed.

Jane Eyre, both the book and the recent film, contains one of those classic wedding scenes in which the happy pair are torn apart, mere seconds before their vows are solemnized, by the revelation of a terrible secret. That sort of bump on the road to wedded bliss is certainly a staple of both literature and cinema. But recently, while watching Rita Hayworth cavort in the 1944 musical, Cover Girl, I was struck by another familiar movie trope: that of the bride who—just in the nick of time—bolts from her wedding to the wrong guy and runs into the arms of her own true love. This of course, is also the climax of It Happened One Night, as well as scads of more recent films. In virtually every case the rejected groom is good-looking and wealthy, with impeccable social credentials. But American audiences are trained to prefer the blue-collar working stiff to the blue-blooded aristocrat, so we know in advance that Claudette Colbert will be better off with scruffy journalist Clark Gable, and that Rita Hayworth will only be happy with hoofer Gene Kelly, despite the career boost that would come from marriage to the suave stage impresario played by Lee Bowman.

In 1967, The Graduate ended with an interrupted wedding scene that proved so indelible it’s still being copied. Benjamin Braddock (played by the appealingly nebbishy Dustin Hoffman in his first real screen role) makes it to the church just in time to rescue the beautiful Elaine (Katharine Ross) from a marriage her mother has set in motion, to a handsome but callow blond medical student known around his fraternity house as “the makeout king.” Part of what originally made the scene so shocking—and so liberating—was that when Ben disrupts the ceremony, the knot has already been tied. So when Ben and Elaine make their escape from the altar by flagging down a passing city bus, she (still in her wedding finery) is legally another man’s wife. Their elopement thus pokes a thumb in the eye of social hypocrisy, as represented by their parents’ generation. Will Ben and Elaine, once the legalities have been sorted out, ultimately enter into holy wedlock? Personally, I don’t see why they’d bother.

Which takes me back to jolly old England, and one of my favorite romantic comedies, Four Weddings and a Funeral. The film contains misguided weddings, an interrupted wedding, a groom who changes his mind, and much more. (There’s that funeral, after all.) It ends on a hopeful, romantic note, with the central couple agreeing to a lifelong commitment that does not include a marriage ceremony. Let’s wish for William and Kate a lifelong commitment, to which a fancy formal wedding (complete with media blitz) is merely a colorful prelude.


  1. I'm amazed how many movies fit into this one article. Maybe it's because about 25% of all movies made have weddings in them (more for romantic comedies)?

  2. Well, everyone -- or almost everyone -- loves a wedding. I can think of lots more movie examples. There are even two new wedding movies out this week, "Something Borrowed" (with Kate Hudson) and "Jumping the Broom" (the title of this comedy slanted toward African-American audiences refers to a marriage custom from slavery days). And remember that in Shakespeare's era the difference between a tragedy and a comedy is that one ended in death and one ended in marriage. I leave you to figure out which was which!

  3. Movie weddings can be fun - or sad, of my favorite funny ones is in Beetlejuice - and my favorite sad one is hands down On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Lovely post!

    1. How I want to go back and see these. Thanks for the inspiration, Craig!