How Hollywood Depicts the Father's Role in the Wedding Tradition

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Meryl Streep leads an all-star cast in the feature-film adaptation of the beloved musical. As an independent, single mother who owns a small hotel on an idyllic Greek island, Donna (Streep) is about to let go of engaged daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). For Sophie's wedding, the proud mother has invited her two lifelong best friends from her one-time backing band, Donna and the Dynamos. Yet unbeknownst to Donna, Sophie has secretly invited a few guests of her own. Hoping to find the identity of her father so that he can walk her down the aisle, she brings back three men from Donna's past. Also starring Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
April 22nd, 2012

In American culture, the father of the bride is the person who bears the financial burden of the wedding. He also has the honor of walking the bride down the aisle. With such a limited role in the wedding tradition, fathers seem unlikely as the main character in a film about a wedding. However, many films have been produced with the father of the bride as a central character. The focus on the father is often a central part of the plot in some way. His character is usually developed in a major way throughout the movie, affecting the daughter as her wedding day nears. Although the father's journey often seems to be a minor part of the film, it is usually pivotal to the plot. This is shown in three very popular movies based on weddings: Father of the Bride, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mamma Mia!

Father, the Protector

The protective father is usually painted in wedding movies at his worst. Dad hates the groom. Dad wants to keep his daughter away from the groom. Obviously, the reason for this is that the father feels the groom is stealing his daughter's affections away. However, this realization usually takes several zany scenes to develop. In doing so, the audience comes to admire and sympathize with the father's wish to protect his little girl and his need for her to find happiness. Annie and her father, George, in the Father of the Bride are examples. George is shocked by the news of Annie's engagement (and short courtship) during a long-awaited visit from his daughter. Annie brings her groom-to-be Bryan, who is from an upper-class family. George hates the man from the start.

Throughout the film, George agonizes over the fact that his daughter is leaving to marry a man that she hardly knows and that George hardly knows either. The opposition begins early and is undeniable. However, George begins to see that his daughter's happiness hinges on her marrying the man she loves. The father's objections to the groom thus seem irrational. In the end, George must bring the couple back together in an attempt to save the wedding that he didn't want from the start.

Father, the Aisle Escort

Such a simple and brief practice as walking a daughter down the aisle has been made a primary part of the American wedding. This role is made prominent in Mamma Mia! as Sophie tries desperately to find her father before her wedding, so he can perform this traditional duty. Her task is made difficult by Sophie's mother Donna, who doesn't know exactly who the father is. Sophie peeks in her mother's diary to find the name of her dad but is surprised to see that there are three men who could be her father. Sophie just needs to figure out which one he is.

Enter Sam, Bill and Harry, who all got close to Donna one carefree summer. Sophie invites all three men to the Greek island, where she and her mother live. Throughout the movie, Sophie, her friends and the fathers try to determine who Sophie's true father is. Meanwhile, Donna comes to terms with her romantic past. At the moment when the true father is meant to walk Sophie down the aisle, the three men decide to share the father title, but the question of who should walk Sophie down the aisle is never answered. Donna takes the honor. In doing so, she takes away the pressure of adhering to such an ingrained tradition. Mamma Mia! ends up breaking the tradition in a flurry of dance and ABBA songs. In the end, Sophie doesn't go through with the wedding. She and her fiancée Sky end up traveling the world and putting the wedding on hold.

Father, the Keeper of Tradition

Another prominent role of the father in a wedding is the keeper of family tradition. My Big Fat Greek Wedding depicts the father Gus as being worried about his daughter finding a good Greek man and wanting to see his daughter taken care of and having children. However, his daughter Toula must break free from the traditional roles of women in order to find her own happiness. She tricks her father into letting her take classes to find a new career. She then takes a job working for her aunt in a travel agency. After a change of dress and appearance, Toula catches the attention of John, a professor at the nearby college. Toula had been admiring John before her transformation, but he had not noticed her until she shed the traditional Greek dress and appearance and adopted a more modern look.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding shows that the father's stark insistence on following tradition is not always in the best interests of the daughter. Although Toula's husband does convert to the Greek religion, Gus still has to learn to accept his daughter's modern choices and lifestyle. In the end, Toula and John are living in the same neighborhood as Gus and the rest of the family, with their daughter complaining about going to Greek school as Toula once did. Toula is happy with her choices, as she now has the best of both worlds.

The roles of the father in American wedding tradition do not always fit with modern society or the happiness of the bride. In highlighting common father roles, Father of the Bride, Mamma Mia! and My Big Fat Greek Wedding all show the flaws of traditional roles. The movies also reflect the compromises that dads must make in order to successfully ensure their little girls are happy.

Tags: Mamma Mia!