The interracial meet-the-parents setup pioneered in 1967 by Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner gets a modest comic update in Rick Famuyiwa’s Our Family Wedding. If the film follows a relatively straightforward trajectory and occasionally falters on the repeated childish antics of the older generation, it benefits from a surprisingly sophisticated consideration of family models as well as the winning performances of America Ferrera and Lance Gross as the central couple. While the most explicit attempt to reimagine the Kramer classic, Kevin Rodney Smith’s 2005 film Guess Who, flipped the script on the original by placing the white Ashton Kutcher in the Sidney Poitier role where he’s forced to contend with the disapproval of prospective father-in-law Bernie Mac, Famuyiwa’s film dispenses with white characters altogether, positing its black and Latino paterfamilias as equal repositories of suspicion—and bringing considerably more intelligence to the proceedings than the earlier film.
Ferrera and Gross star as Lucia and Marcus, a young couple who met at Columbia grad school (she’s a dropout of the law program, he’s a recent med-school alum) and whose secret engagement is a question of great anxiety due to the presumptive disapproval of their parents. Flying to their native Los Angeles, they arrange a surprise dinner for their respective families in which they announce their intentions to get married, unsurprisingly resulting in the considerable consternation of both Lucia’s parents (heads of a tradition-minded middle-class Mexican family) and Marcus’s father (a wealthy, womanizing radio host who raised his son as a single parent).
As the fathers get to know each other, they engage in constant games of racially motivated one-upmanship (belting out traditional black and Mexican songs while trying to drown out the other, arguing over tuxedo color), but despite the efforts of Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia, these sequences soon prove more exhausting than humorous. Similarly, class also proves a crucial point of contention between the two men, as illustrated in a should’ve-been-funnier Tatiesque gag in which Mencia runs afoul of Whitaker’s ultramodern, automated household appliances.
More successful, from a comedic standpoint, is a sequence in which the families plan the wedding seating chart, imagining the potentially disastrous possibilities of seating members of the groom’s party with members of the bride’s. But even this segment trades too much on racial stereotypes, a tendency that comes to the fore in the concluding wedding sequence which parades the likes of a gangbanging ese and an ay-yay-yay-ing Mexican grandmother before the camera. Still none of these moments can be termed the film’s comic low point—not when the wedding counts among its guests a Viagra-popping goat.
If the film plays its racial angle relatively conventionally, then it’s considerably more interested in exploring the varied possibilities of family organization. In addition to presenting the differing structures of the bride’s and groom’s clans, the movie offers up a variety of conflicting voices on the question of sexual politics. While conservative attitudes are spouted by Lucia’s tradition-worshipping grandmother (Lupe Ontiveros) and a friend of Marcus’s father (comedian Charlie Murphy) who advocates keeping women in the kitchen, they’re counterpointed by the bride’s younger sister Izzy (Anjelah Johnson), a fierce proponent of female emancipation and rather harsh critic of her own family dynamic. Explaining to her sister how she doesn’t want to end up like her mother, an unsatisfied housewife with no life of her own, she’s overheard by the older woman, who is understandably hurt. Repeating the conversation to her husband, though, she seems to miss her daughter’s feminist critique (a misreading that the film does nothing to correct), taking her words as a reproach only to her lack of sexual satisfaction, not to her failings as a well-rounded person.
Lizzy’s warning, however, is presumably not lost on her sister. Having once made a pledge with her younger sibling not to marry, Lucia remains aware of the dangers of falling into an unequal partnership. At once progressive (she ditched law school to teach immigrants, a job she says she “loves,” and plans on jetting off to Laos with her new husband on a Doctors without Borders program) and traditional (she cops to finding Marcus’s family upbringing “irregular,” she’s giving up a career to follow her husband to Laos), the bride (and groom) are faced with many examples to choose from as they begin their own family. One imagines, given the couple’s makeup—and it’s refreshing to see young characters as intelligent, sensitive, and socially conscious as the central pair—that they’ll avoid many of the undesirable patterns of the older generation, but the influence of their parents is clearly felt. Still, in the end, even those parents are redeemed: Marcus’s father through an unfortunate subplot involving a potential relationship with a longtime platonic friend which shows that, for all its progressive tendencies, the film views monogamy as the sole acceptable way of life; and Lucia’s parents through the father’s dedication to renewing his marital romance, which shows that even if it’s the only way, at least monogamy can be sexy.