“Father of the Bride” Director Gaz Alazraki on Re-Tooling the Story as Cuban-American Comedy
Spencer Tracy charmed moviegoers as the original Father of the Bride in 1950. Then Steve Martin reprised the wedding-overwhelmed dad in Nancy Meyer’s 1991 romantic comedy of the same name. Now, Andy García headlines a new reboot playing an old-fashioned Cuban-American patriarch hilariously bewildered by complications that arise when his very modern daughter announces she’s getting married.
Father of the Bride (opening Friday in theaters and on HBO Max), co-starring Gloria Estefan, Adria Arjona, Isabela Merced, Diego Boneta, and Chloe Fineman, marks the English-language debut of Mexican director Gaz Alazraki. In 2013, he wrote and directed hit comedy Nosotros los Nobles, then co-created Netflix’s first Spanish language series Club de Cuervo. Three years ago, Alazraki moved with his wife and two daughters to Los Angeles. “When I finished the last season of Cuervo,” he says, “I told my wife it’s the perfect time to make the Hollywood jump and see how it goes.” It went well. “My agents introduced me to people around the city,” recalls Alazraki, who made an especially favorable impression on Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company. Co-president Jeremy Kleiner sent Matt Lopez’s Father of the Bride script to Alazraki, who subsequently won over Warner Bros. Pictures and landed the gig.
Over the weekend, Alazraki, vacationing in Miami with his family, lounged poolside and discussed Andy Garcia’s Cuban-American heritage, talked about the surprising Gloria Estefan, and described how his own tumultuous wedding helped prepare him for Father of the Bride.
Your Father of the Bride puts a timely spin on this classic story by making Andy Garcia’s Billy character a proud American immigrant. He says “I came to this country with nothing” at least three times over the course of the film.
Five times. [laughing].
Okay, five times. How did the movie’s immigrant theme resonate for you?
Actually, that was my way into the story. When we moved to L.A. three years ago I suddenly started hearing my daughter speaking with a “Valley” accent, calling me “Daddy.” I’d be like “Don’t go there, call me papa.” As a father myself, I’m realizing my kids now are disconnected from the little rituals my family used to impose on us. Do I carry a responsibility to pass that on? Am I being too careless with my past, too careless with what my grandparents worked for, too detached from where we come from?
Like his character Billy, Andy Garcia fled from Cuba to the United States when he was a boy. In prepping the film, did you talk to Andy about his Cuban-American experience?
Yeah. Andy talked about being a first-generation immigrant, his work ethic and working-class values, and how his children didn’t have to struggle the way he did. That opened the door to how this father of the bride is struggling with the zeitgeist of a new generation, which does not think the patriarchy should infantilize women anymore. This central conflict goes beyond the immigrant theme and becomes about where America is today.
Andy Garcia’s famous for dramatic roles in movies like The Godfather Part III, The Untouchables, and When a Man Loves a Woman. He’s not really a comedian.
Like, where is the funny right?
The general idea I conveyed to Andy was that he should always be searching for the hidden camera. “Is anyone else seeing this? Am I crazy? What’s going on!” We tooled the script so that every scene tries to be another slap and another slap and another slap.
Billy respects tradition, maybe to a fault, and that provides a lot of comedic friction with both his daughters and his wife.
There’s this great quote, “Tradition is peer pressure from dead people.” Billy comes from this very male-driven, macho society. In the #MeToo era, that makes for a better story, so we wanted that to bleed into the screen. It just felt fitting for Andy, this character who holds dear to tradition and to have him be surrounded by people who stomp on it. Then you just go “roll camera.”
Gloria Estefan does a very convincing job playing Billy’s weary wife Ingrid. Everybody knows Gloria Estefan’s a great singer, but what did you learn about her as an actress?
The first thing you realize about Gloria is that she’s a potty mouth.
She swears like a sailor, dude. She’s so poised and classy but then Gloria will blindside you with some of the raunchiest humor. You go, okay this woman has grit, and she’s naturally funny. We just needed to lead with her persona and let Gloria play this strong woman who’s always poking Billy trying to get him to break because she will leave him if he doesn’t.
Father of the Bride takes place in Miami and showcases the Cuban-American community there. How did you integrate Miami into the storyline?
I’ve always loved how Woody Allen used the city [of Manhattan] as a character in his movies, so we took that idea and infused our movie with the Miami vibe. We really wanted to showcase Cuban-American Miami, so we shot in Little Havana where you have all the Cuban shops, Cuban restaurants, salsa joints, and Domino Park. At Domino Park, Billy showed his daughter the world, and taught her grit—that’s why Billy thinks she’s daddy’s little girl.
Nancy Meyers’ 1991 Father of the Bride takes place against a wealthy backdrop and so does your movie. Was that intentional?
We wanted the affluence in our film to speak to the Nancy Meyers lineage. It’s also because the Cuban American narrative is unique in that it started with upper-class businessmen of Cuba who came to the United States as exiles, by planes, by boats. They thrived. You drive to the Coconut Grove neighborhood in Miami, the women dress in fancy clothes and they’re successful by every measure of the American dream. You don’t get to see that kind of Latino representation in Hollywood. Father of the Bride subverts the stereotype, without us having to make anything up.
Oscar-nominated composer Terence Blanchard contributes a sparkling jazz score that speaks to the characters’ sophistication. What was your brief to Mr. Blanchard?
Andy loves jazz and used to go to music clubs in the poor districts of Miami to listen to it, so jazz feels true to Billy’s character given that he’s this traditional Cuban-American man. That insight opened up what the music should sound like. We temped the movie with some of Terry’s previous jazz work which was a way to convey to him: “Just do you.”
Did you have any Cuban-American musicians in mind as reference points?
Not even, although Andy spoke to Terence about [Cuban-American trumpeter-composer] Arturo Sandoval. The fun thing is that Terence’s usual jazz players played most of the music. Then we brought in this amazing Cuban percussionist, and he just took it to town.
Father of the Bride, in all its incarnations, might feel so universally relatable because nearly every adult has some kind of wedding story, either as a guest or a participant. Was your own wedding anything like what we see in your movie?
Before I got married, my mother had the gall to say to my wife, “This is not your wedding.” We went bananas and it became this ever-going loop of fights and fights and fights. Something would anger my wife, she’d tell me, I’d yell at my dad, he’d tell my mom, like a broken telephone game. My dad wanted 1200 guests so we got married an hour and a half away from our home in Mexico City just to bring down the numbers. And yet by the end, it was a fantastic wedding. We had a rabbi singing in Hebrew with a Cuban band playing the background music. When I pitched Warner Bros., I said this is what real weddings are about: fighting with your friends and family all the way to the altar and then you celebrate.
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Featured image: Caption: (L back-R) ENRIQUE MURCIANO as Junior, RUBEN RABASA as Tio Walter (white tux), SEAN PATRICK DAWSON as Junior, Jr., ANDY GARCIA as Billy, GLORIA ESTEFAN as Ingrid, HO-KWAN TSE as Huan (back) and MARTA VELASCO as Caridad “Chi Chi” Gonzalez in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and HBO Max’s “FATHER OF THE BRIDE.” Photo Credit: Claudette Barius.