Juan José Campanella’s The Son of the Bride (2001) isn’t art, but it is artful. This Oscar-nominated Argentinean film is a slyly humorous look at a fairly stock situation: the midlife crisis. It has, in fact, been compared to American Beauty (1999), though I think the connection does Campanella’s film a disservice. Son of the Bride may not be especially deep and it may offer nothing particularly new, but it has a generousness of spirit that is much more human and pleasing than anything American Beauty has to offer. Campanella loves his characters. He never condescends to them.
The story focuses on Rafael Belvedere (Ricardo Darín), a 42-year-old restaurant owner who finds himself so stressed out by his not-exactly-thriving business and other life pressures that he has a never clearly defined seizure that lands him in the hospital where he re-evaluates his life and what he wants from it. The problem is that his re-evaluation has its own shortcomings, especially because it’s ill-thought and completely self-centered. In dealing with the ramifications of his new choices as they impact his girlfriend (Natalia Verbeke), his daughter (Gimena Nóbile), his father (Héctor Alterio), his ex-wife (Claudia Fontán), his Alzheimer-afflicted mother (Norma Aleandro), a childhood friend with no other friends (Eduardo Blanco), and the people who work for him—the world starts to make sense to him at last. The central drama focuses on his father’s desire to give his largely uncomprehending wife the big church wedding she always wanted, but the crux of the film lies in the characterizations. Much that happens is predictable, but it’s also satisfying.