Kino Lober is releasing a number of value-priced Blu-ray double features with similarly-themed films. Among them is the combo of "Betsy's Wedding" and "Holy Matrimony". The first movie is a 1990 release starring and directed by Alan Alda, who had directed three previous feature films. Anyone who has been involved in planning a wedding knows that the old adage "The more the merrier!" rings hollow. In fact, the logistics of planning a wedding can become increasingly complicated and frustrating in direct correlation with the number of well-meaning people who decide to involve themselves. There's always the risk that the betrothed couple will be overwhelmed by logistics and that the wedding plans are catered to please everyone but them. Such is the case in "Betsy's Wedding". Alda is cast as Eddie Hopper, a successful real estate speculator who invests money in building homes that he hopes to sell for a quick profit. Lately, however, his instincts have been troublesome and his latest venture is proving to be a white elephant that is draining his savings. At the same time, his youngest daughter Betsy (Molly Ringwald) and her boyfriend Jake (Dylan Walsh) announce they intend to get married. Both are left-wing progressives who are also social activists who disdain blatant displays of wealth. They want a low-key civil ceremony with only a handful of guests. However, Eddie and his wife Lola (Madeline Kahn) argue that a much grander, traditional wedding is called for so as not to offend family members. Their resistance worn down, Betsy and Jake reluctant concede, which opens a Pandora's Box of bad luck for all involved. Eddie can't afford to put on the wedding he has lobbied for so he turns to his brother-in-law Oscar (Joe Pesci), a slimy business "tycoon" who, in reality, is also short of cash. Since he can't find the money to lend Eddie for the wedding, he introduces him to a local mob boss, Georgie (Burt Young), who puts up the funds but then integrates himself into Eddie's life and plans for the wedding. A parallel story line centers on Eddie and Lola's other daughter Connie (Ally Sheedy), a New York City police officer who is stuck in a perpetual mode of depression, shying away from people and bruised by the fact that her younger sister will marry before she does. She is elevated from the blues by Georgie's bodyguard Stevie Dee (Anthony Lapaglia), a slick mobster who sounds like Rocky Balboa on steroids but who curiously speaks to everyone with excessive politeness. Has is obsessed with Connie and slowly but surely succeeds in wooing her into coming out of her shell. As the wedding date nears, the pressure mounts on everyone. Eddie's business dealings with George almost get him assassinated in an attempted mob hit, Betsy and Jake are barely on speaking terms and on the wedding day and a torrential rain storm threatens to collapse the large tent structure the reception is being held in. Eddie receives solace from imaginary conversations with his dear, departed father (Joey Bishop).
"Besty's Wedding" was not well-received by critics or audiences back in the day and proved to be the final feature film to date directed by Alan Alda. Yet, I found it to be consistently funny and Alda excels as both actor and director, milking maximum laughs from an inspired cast. The scene-stealer is Lapaglia, one of the few cast members to receive kudos from reviewers. His sensitive tough guy routine is both amusing and endearing. The film isn't hilarious at any point but it's never less than entertaining, as you might imagine any movie that teams Joe Pesci and Burt Young would be.
"Holy Matrimony" was unceremoniously dumped by Disney into a handful of theaters in 1994 before being relegated to home video. It's total theatrical gross in North America was about $700,000. As with "Betsy's Wedding", it was directed by a popular actor, in this case Leonard Nimoy. Ironically, just as "Betsy's Wedding" represented Alda's last direction (to date) of a feature film, so too did "Holy Matrimony" mark Nimoy's last directorial effort on the big screen. The premise is hardly original, centering on a protagonist who seeks shelter in a religious community to evade pursuers. This plot device dates back to the 1940s with John Wayne in "Angel and the Badman" and its unacknowledged 1984 remake "Witness". Here we find Patricia Arquette as Havana, a sultry young woman from the other side of the tracks who is fed up with being exploited by performing provocative routines at a carnival tent located in a fairgrounds. She is paid a miserly wage by the owner who she comes to resent. She and her equally impoverished boyfriend Peter (Tate Donovan) rob the owner and flee in their car, but not before being identified. With the police searching for them, they cross into Canada and take refuge in an Amish-like religious colony where Peter was raised before leaving for the outside world. They pretend to want to immerse themselves in the rustic lifestyle but Havana's coarse nature and foul mouth make the elders suspicious of their motives. Peter hides the cache of stolen loot but before he can divulge its location to Havana, he is killed in an automobile accident. The colony elders view this as a way to get rid of Havana by informing her that customs dictate that she must marry Peter's brother, in this case twelve year-old Ezekiel (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). However, Havana- who needs to stay until she can locate the stash of hidden money- agrees to the arrangement, much to the shock of all involved- especially young Ezekiel who is appalled at having to be married at such a young age. The film deftly handles the possible distasteful elements of this reverse "Lolita" situation by making it clear that both husband and wife sleep in separate rooms. The one funny sex gag involves Ezekiel trying to impress his friends that he is satisfying his new wife only to have the scenario backfire much to his embarrassment when it is revealed he is actually in the bedroom alone.
Much of what follows is predictable. As with all movie plots in which the male and female protagonists start off hating each other, there is no doubt that Havana and Ezekiel will grow to respect and like each other, with Havana acting more like a big sister than a wife. Once the money is located, Havana is told to accompany Ezekiel back to the States to return the loot to its rightful owner. What follows is a road trip in which the two share plenty of personal thoughts and have to avoid a corrupt FBI agent (John Schuck), who is hot on their trail, determined to steal the money for himself. The story climaxes back at the state fair where Havana originally worked. She's now determined to return the stolen money, all the while trying to evade the police and the FBI guy who are hot on her trail. Director Nimoy capably blends both sentiment and comedy during the course of the film, though the movie's main attributes are the performances by Arquette and especially young Gordon-Levitt who shows star power even at this early stage of his career. There is also a very fine performance by Armin-Mueller Stahl as the elder of the religious community. Refreshingly, the film doesn't mock or humiliate the members of the religious colony. Rather, it is "fish-out-of-water" Havana who bears the brunt of most of the humor. While "Holy Matrimony" is nothing very special, it does seem to have suffered an undeserved fate by being released to only a small number of theaters. It is certainly on par with most mid-range comedies but apparently Disney felt it had very little boxoffice appeal.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray combo features very fine transfers of both films and includes their original trailers. Recommended.