I generally give a very wide berth to any film with the word "wedding" in the title - think My Big Fat Greek Wedding or The Wedding Singer - but was only too glad to make an exception in this case. This is, after all, Robert Altman, and though it's not vintage Altman - Nashville or Short Cuts - even an average Altman is a treat to be savoured.

The story follows the high-society wedding of Dino Sloan Corelli (Desi Arnaz Jr.) and Muffin Brenner (Amy Stryker) and all the inevitable rivalries, jealousies and infidelities that result when two very different families come together under one roof. The families couldn't be more different - the Sloan Corellis are priggish blue-bloods, the Brenners self-made hicks from the deep south. It's not so much a clash of old and new money, as a head-on collision of contrasting cultures and values.

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Altman handles it all beautifully, with his trademark "hands off" direction and overlapping dialogue capturing the mood perfectly - the small talk, the uncomfortable silences and the stilted introductions as the two families attempt to make the best of a bad job.

Much of the dialogue was improvised and despite the lack of overall structure - maybe because of it - the dialogue crackles, as when the sozzled old Dr Meecham (Howard Duff) corners a young teetotaller.

"You mean you don't drink?" Meecham asks accusingly. "No," the young man replies. "In other words, when you get up in the morning, that's as good as you're going to feel all day?"

Carol Burnett, as mother of the bride Tulip Brenner, holds the whole piece together, while co-writer John Considine is excellent as the harassed head of security who watches over proceedings as if he were on presidential protection duty. When he is eventually called into action, to arrest an innocent interloper, he fluffs it, while the sight of him trying to escort the senile bishop up a flight of stairs is a wonderful visual gag that nicely sums up the film's sly humour.

If you had to look for negatives, you could say the cast is too big and unwieldy. With 48 speaking parts, it takes a while for the film to settle down and even then it is sometimes difficult to know who's who. As well as the immediate family, there's also a raft of spouses, uncles, aunts, grandparents and friends, not to mention the wedding planning team and the catering and security staff.

Inevitably, with such a large cast and so many competing story lines, the film loses some of its focus and does peter out in the end, but that's a small price to pay for priceless dialogue and stand out performances.

Mia Farrow, as Buffy Brenner, the shy but man-hungry sister of the bride, barely says two words but plays a key role in the collapse of the already fragile relationship between the two families when it is revealed she has been impregnated by Dino while visiting his army base. A drunk Dino tries to explain away his actions to Buffy's understandably miffed father by saying he wasn't the only one who slept with her. Who else, the father demands. "Oh, just about everyone else in the barracks," Dino replies.

Reviewed on: 29 Aug 2005
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A Wedding packshot
Trouble at a high society wedding.
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Director: Robert Altman

Writer: Robert Altman, John Considine, Allan F. Nicholls, Patricia Resnick based on the story by Robert Altman, John Considine

Starring: Desi Arnaz Jr., Carol Burnett, Geraldine Chaplin, Howard Duff, Mia Farrow, Vittorio Gassman, Lillian Gish, John Cromwell, Amy Stryker, Pat McCormick

Year: 1978

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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