son of the bride (2002)

director: juan jose campanella

ricardo darin, hector alterio, norma aleandro

A film about a man's midlife crisis is only as successful as your inclination to feel sympathy for the man in question. Suffering is, after all, relative, and the pain of a man struggling with his inability to commit to a relationship or confront lingering issues with his parents might seem trivial compared to, say, a refugee, or a war widow, or a child losing its family and future to a war.

Rafael (Ricardo Darin) is a successful Buenos Aires restaurateur going through a fully-loaded midlife crisis. The stress of keeping the eatery he inherited from his father afloat, combined with the responsibilities of a divorced father and the insecurity of his relationship with a beautiful younger girlfriend eventually bring on a heart attack at the age of 42. Two weeks in the trauma ward make him question his life, and he takes the first steps down the path of least resistance, the default fantasy of boomer men - escape.

He makes a deal with his father, who agrees to let him sell the restaurant in exchange for helping organize a proper church wedding for the old man and his wife, an Alzheimer's victim who can't remember her husband or son anymore. Rafael has no sympathy for his father's desire for the ceremony he wouldn't let his wife have four decades earlier, but agrees anyway, his own needs taking inevitable precedence. With his escape barely in place, Rafael's plan starts to fall apart when his ex-wife resists letting him take his daughter with him, and his girlfriend decides that she can no longer live with an insecure boy masquerading as a mature man.

With a lesser cast, Rafael's plight might seem risible, an invitation for well-deserved scorn. But Darin plays Rafael with just enough presence of mind to hint that he might actually be aware of what a prat he's being. As his parents, Hector Alterio and the great Norma Aleandro are touching without being pathetic, and director Juan Jose Campanella has a sureness of touch that only occasionally slips at the end, where an obvious wish for a happy ending ties the ragged ends of Rafael's life into too neat a knot.