by Kayla McCulloch on Oct 2, 2020

Although the Covid-19 pandemic might be keeping people apart physically, it seems that this unprecedented global event has strangely resulted in an influx of virtual reunions — from The Lord of the Rings to Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to Parks and Recreation (2009-15). Name a popular film or television show, and it’s very likely that the cast came together over video chat at some point since the spread of the novel coronavirus. Almost always done in an effort to raise money for a charitable cause, these livestreamed get-togethers bring in millions of viewers a pop, thanks in large part to the draw of instantly recognizable IP and the A-listers who popularized them. Freewheeling Q&As with famous cast members, star-studded table reads of cult classics, and one-off scripted specials that follow up with beloved characters have all had their time in the spotlight as of late. It’s a mini-trend in which Nancy Meyers’ name has come up more than once — first with an online Parent Trap (1998) reunion in July and now with Father of the Bride Part 3 (ish).

An auteur in her own right (though rarely labeled as one), Meyers — along with her now ex-husband, Charles Shyer — rose to fame on the tail end of the New Hollywood movement. Their first screenwriting effort, the Goldie Hawn vehicle Private Benjamin (1980), was worthy enough to establish them as a dynamic duo of sorts and cement their standing as a winning husband-and-wife production team. The Shyer-directed, Meyers-Shyer-co-written films Irreconcilable Differences (1984) and Baby Boom (1987) continued their hot streak, the spouses gently taking jabs at the nuclear family and propping up the ideals of second-wave feminism while simultaneously providing a window (albeit a slightly foggy one) into the complexities of being a working man and woman in the age of yuppies, Reagan, and unabashed greed. Then came their Father of the Bride films.

The pair’s sole film franchise, Father of the Bride (1991) and Father of the Bride Part II (1995) serve as incredibly loose updates of the 1950 Vincente Minnelli film of the same name and its little-known sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951). Subbing for Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, and Elizabeth Taylor are Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as the father, mother, and daughter (respectively) at the center of these charming family comedies. The newer films embrace a decidedly sillier humor that both honors the Old Hollywood feel of the 1950s versions and adds a dash of modernity. Martin’s portrayal of patriarch George Banks is not only one of the actor’s most endearing performances, but he’s also one of the all-time great movie dads, too.

In the 25 years since the sequel’s debut (and the 20 since her divorce from Shyer), Meyers has transitioned from half of a filmmaking team to an inimitable solo artist. Truthfully, she’s better off: Her films Something’s Gotta Give (2003) and It’s Complicated (2009) are important bits of romantic-comedy gold that show blossoming romances through the perspective of older couples, and The Holiday (2006) and The Intern (2015) serve as warmhearted bridges between younger generations and the Baby Boomers who came before them. Meyers’ solo films are superior to those she made with Shyer, solidifying her auteur status and granting her a spot at the table alongside such contemporaries as Peter Bogdanovich and Francis Ford Coppola — and, as it turns out, proving successful enough for her to feel comfortable with early retirement.

Then, even as Meyers was turning out a guest column for the New York Times, Covid-19 hit and she seriously needed a project. A person long praised for her meticulously designed, lavishly decorated sets, the filmmaker spent two months cleaning her home before she started thinking about making a return to writing and directing. Encouraged by daughters Annie and Hallie (the latter a filmmaker herself, responsible for the Meyers-esque rom-com Home Again [2017]) and no doubt influenced by the positive response to the Katie Couric-hosted Parent Trap reunion earlier in the summer, the elder Meyers ended her self-imposed hiatus and went to work. After months of writing fueled by nostalgia for her earlier films, the desire to create something that could evoke positive change, and the indefinite delay of her daughter Hallie’s July wedding, Meyers — accompanied by a cast of A-listers — completed the cheekily titled, coronavirus-themed, charity-benefiting Father of the Bride Part 3 (ish).

The 26-minute short sees George, wife Nina (Keaton), oldest daughter Annie (Williams-Paisley), son-in-law Bryan (George Newbern), grandson Georgie (Ben Platt), middle son Matty (Kieran Culkin), and youngest daughter Megan (Florence Pugh) — a full house, to be sure, if not for the pandemic — gather for a Zoom call arranged by Matty. After subtly introducing the viewer to the new faces — Platt’s and Pugh’s — through an exchange of hellos, Nina asks why Matty has brought them together. Excitedly, he tells the Bankses that he just can’t stand it any longer: He’s going to ask fiancée Rachel (Alexandra Shipp) — an ER doctor quarantining in a hotel between shifts — if she’ll exchange nuptials right there on the Zoom. George, a self-proclaimed over-reactor, naturally takes this as some sort of scheme on the part of Rachel’s father, an attempt to weasel out of paying for a ceremony. Laughing off his father’s ludicrous suggestion, Matty lets Rachel into the chat. Once she accepts his grand gesture, he welcomes her father (Robert De Niro) to the call and reveals that Franck (Martin Short) will be officiating the ceremony.

Part sequel, part reunion special, part fan fiction come to life, Father of the Bride Part 3 (ish) plays out like a microdose of a Nancy Meyers movie. With many of her films far exceeding 120 minutes, Meyers isn’t one to cut corners narratively. This short-form project requires her to do exactly that, meaning it would undoubtedly be stronger if it were at least five times as long and had the proper room to breathe. Despite this foundational flaw, plenty of her pet themes are still present: Her signature lighthearted jokes, her playful commentary on the ups and downs of life for people of a certain age, and her loving depiction of wholesome family relationships are all here. They’ve just been truncated so they can be packed in tight to fit the condensed run time.

It also helps that this short is fizzing with an organic chemistry — no easy feat, given that the cast and crew were never in the same room with one another. Surely this has something to do with the main cast’s previous collaborations, but much of it rests on the shoulders of Meyers herself. Similar to how Ernst Lubitsch managed to covertly insert risqué wit and suggestive visual gags into his films during the Hays Code, Meyers should be lauded for her continued ability to make sincerity and authenticity seem refreshing in the face of progressively bleaker times. Call it the Meyers Touch. It’s always been one of her finest traits and most defining characteristics as a filmmaker, and it’s as welcome as ever here, especially when she could’ve simply phoned it in.

Yet, as surprisingly substantial as Father of the Bride Part 3 (ish) is, it needs to be said that, as a writer-director who was once routinely given $100 million budgets, it’s unfortunate to see how Meyers has been handed increasingly smaller rations as the 2000s gave way to the ’10s. This charity short, riddled with greenscreens in place of her typically pristine set design and posted on Netflix’s YouTube and Facebook pages instead of the actual streaming service itself, is a continuation of this trend and not a subversion. Considering the fact that her New Hollywood peers Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg, and Terrence Malick are doing some of their very best work right now, it’s no question that Meyers deserves the opportunity to do the same. Perhaps the success of this short will determine if Netflix is willing to bankroll her in the future. (With millions of views in the days since its premiere, this hypothetical may become a reality.)

Although Father of the Bride Part 3 (ish) doesn’t rank anywhere near Meyers’ feature-length productions, it’s not really trying to reach those heights, either. First and foremost, it exists to benefit World Central Kitchen — a cause close to the hearts of the cast and crew as many families struggle to put food on the table in the midst of this pandemic. Any day-brightening or spirit-lifting comes second to this noble cause. It’s modest in size, sentimental in tone, and well intentioned in practice, making it not exactly critic-proof, but certainly unwarranting of any serious analysis. As such, the short — much like the other shutdown-themed, remotely shot works that predate it and are sure to follow after it  — primarily has value as a relic of the Covid-19 era, a strange and confounding time when Hollywood closed its doors, production slowed to a trickle, and the industry had to improvise. Even if Meyers happens to return to retirement and never makes another proper feature again, Father of the Bride Part 3 (ish) is proof of this understated auteur’s perennial artistry.

Rating: B-

Further Viewing: Father of the Bride (1950), Father’s Little Dividend (1951), Baby Boom (1987), Father of the Bride (1991), Father of the Bride Part II (1995), The Parent Trap (1998), Something’s Gotta Give (2003), The Holiday (2006), It’s Complicated (2009), The Intern (2015).

Father of the Bride Part 3 (ish) is now available to stream for free from YouTube.