El hijo de la novia
starring Ricardo Darín, Héctor Alterio, Norma Aleandro, Eduardo Blanco
screenplay by Juan José Campanella, Fernando Castets
directed by Juan José Campanella
by Walter Chaw Restaurateur Rafael (Ricardo Darín)--divorced, paunchy, successful--has a stress- and sweets-inspired heart attack at the age of forty-two, prompting him to reconcile with his estranged mother (Norma Aleandro) and consider selling the family restaurant, and forcing him into a reconsideration of the blasé attitude he has towards his beautiful girlfriend, Naty (Natalia Verbeke). An exhausted contrivance to push a selfish and unpleasant man towards a resuscitation of his wasted life, Juan José Campanella's Son of the Bride (El Hijo de la novia) adds to the "cardiac arrest as a means to mid-life crisis" trope such overly manipulative and sentimental movements as an adorably Alzheimer's afflicted mother, an impassioned monologue about the emptiness of organized religion in the lives of the truly pious, and the return of a childhood pal, Juan Carlos (Eduardo Blanco, doing his best Roberto Benigni), whose own misfortunes cast Rafael's into stark relief.
Son of the Bride suffers the same malady as Nanni Moretti's filial melodrama The Son's Room: the emotions are too big and the screenplay too narrow to encompass the power and beauty of its performances. The ideas that choices define a lifetime and that memory is a thing to be exorcised if one is to move forward are interesting and vital, but the picture seems content with over-extending its small resolutions and over-emphasizing its telegraphed climaxes. Too often, Son of the Bride becomes an exercise in trying to predict when a preordained "big moment" will occur and not if: When will the friend's desire to be an actor make itself useful? When will Rafael finally realize that he needs saintly Naty in his life?
Staying a full thirty minutes past its welcome, Son of the Bride is not without certain charms. While the mother's illness has the misfortune of sharing a year with Judi Dench's shattering portrayal of the same in Iris (rendering it cutesy and reminiscent of the sour Estelle Getty character from TV's "The Golden Girls"), Darín's complicatedly unlikable Rafael is a wonderful construction of fecklessness and the genuine desire to improve. And though Blanco's clownish Juan Carlos bombs and mugs with an irritatingly consistent vigour, an extended scene in hospital between Naty and Rafael and then Naty and Juan Carlos is remarkable for its understatement and rawness.
Yet Son of the Bride invests far too much of its time on subplots that go nowhere (Juan Carlos professes love for Naty in a charming comic moment that is anchored to no other part of the story) and ridiculous comic tableaux that are as fruitless as they are uncomfortable (a marriage ceremony that just goes on and on). When the film fails, it fails for underestimating its audience's ability to appreciate the nuances of interpersonal relationships. The comedy doesn't translate and the pathos is all too familiar, in other words, but Son of the Bride earns a recommendation regardless for Darín, Verbeke (who will be a star), and for a noble and heartfelt performance by Héctor Alterio as Rafael's father, resolutely refusing to be broken by the dying of his wife's light. Too maudlin, too wide in its scope, and ultimately not certain what story it's telling, Son of the Bride is a cozy, mostly entertaining failure that finds an uncomfortable amount of ease in its solutions to life's cruellest ironies. Originally published: March 22, 2002.