Just as the pre-cardiac arrest Rafa is vapid and unhappy, so is Campanella's film before the incident. Ricardo Darín, in the lead role, is a standout, sputtering dialogue like an angry boxer throwing jabs, but we've seen most of this before. He ignores the situations around him, works his fingers to the bone, and doesn't appreciate life. The prospects for an original, honest movie get worse when Rafa's aging father (Héctor Alterio) reveals his wish to renew his vows with Rafa's stunning mother (Norma Aleandro), regardless of her losing battle with Alzheimer's. Alterio's gushy proclamation is too sticky-sweet, and the film seems headed for soap opera territory.
Even just after Rafael's cardiac arrest, the film treads on well-worn paths, as the ill man envisions his destiny - it is all too reminiscent of the disappointing Life as a House, right down to Darín's performance being as sharp as Kevin Kline's was in that movie. But just as Campanella's film seems destined to be Life as a Restaurant, the writer/director pulls his tale out of the drippy muck.
Campanella's script, co-written with partner Fernando Castets, gracefully improves as the film progresses, as the writers enhance peripheral characters (Rafael's ex-wife, a childhood friend, his current girlfriend) without losing sight of the main plotlines. The dialogue also improves - the verbal clichés begin to fall away, and the dramatic moments are punctuated with greater brevity and heart. Even the music tones down.
Campanella's direction also gains a steadier hand, a slight glow, a respect for the actors' emotions. His artistic ability breaks through with each scene, specifically his unorthodox use of longer takes and reaction shots (especially those of Aleandro, who delivers a confident, heartbreaking performance). One sequence in particular, consisting of a revelatory confession viewed through a videophone monitor, is excellent, and will have most viewers hooked for the remainder of the film.
The single aspect of Son of the Bride that seems most stilted, of course, is Campanella's use of Alzheimer's to gain sympathy. But, as is the cruelty and beauty of life, it is the only piece of the puzzle that is factual, as Campanella based that part of the story on his own father's similar wishes. Thankfully, Campanella keeps the middle stages of the woman's mental deterioration accurate, as Aleandro repeats singular phrases, cusses like a sailor, and barely recognizes anyone.
It is then all the more heartbreaking when the character does enjoy happiness, appearing to glimpse a memory here or there. And it also brings a fascinating question to light: do the loved ones around an Alzheimer's patient create situations with that person for their own selfish reasons? In this film, the question is more important than the answer, as it reflects a filmmaker that turns a hollow introduction into a sweet, thoughtful movie, in a redemptive move that his main character could appreciate.
Aka El Hijo de la Novia.
The son ogles the mother of the bride.
Run time: 123 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 16th August 2001
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 49 Rotten: 8
IMDB: 7.9 / 10
Director: Juan José Campanella
Screenwriter: Juan José Campanella, Fernando Castets