66 The Label – You are probably familiar with the Nancy Meyers Effect. Meyers, of course, is the director who specializes in films about well-off types who seem chill and cool despite their status.
Meyers is a master at writing rich characters, in both senses of the word: people who have stuff from The Row, but describe it as “this old thing”; people who own expensive cookware, but aren’t afraid to use it. The Nancy Meyers Effect, then, is the thing that happens when you watch her movies: even if you’re a proud Jacobin subscriber, you’re glad to spend two hours in a world where owning a wine cellar is a thing to be proud of.
Father of the Bride, which Meyers co-wrote with her then-husband, Charles Shyer (who also directed it), came out 30 years ago this week. But when you watch it alongside other movies Meyers wrote (most notably 1980’s Private Benjamin and 1987’s Baby Boom), and then the ones she directed, starting with her 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, you start to notice the particular knack Meyers has for softening aspiration. These days, that feels like sort of a lost art form: creating characters who obviously have a lot of money, but are relatable and, most importantly, likeable.
As Instagram has taken over the world, directors who specialize in moodboard-friendly imagery have risen to the fore: like Meyers, Nora Ephron and Wes Anderson built careers by making movies about people who dress cooler than you, and lead a more interesting life, too. But Meyers is in a category all her own. The vibe is a little Ina Garten and Jeffrey, a dash of Ralph Lauren Home catalog, a pinch of Jil Sander. There’s no such thing as the “perfect” life, but Meyers does a damn good job at making us think that maybe there is. A big part of that is her own obsessive nature. As Rene Russo told Vulture in 2020, the director pays attention to every single detail, from hair and makeup to the length of an actor’s sleeve.
When I read that, I thought immediately of Steve Martin in Father of the Bride. I’ve never put much stock in believing I could have a life that looked anything like a Meyers character, but every little detail of the life of George Banks has looked great to me for 30 of my 41 years on this planet. The guy owns a sneaker company called Side Kick. He owns a home that, in real life, is a 4,397-square-foot colonial-style with four bedrooms and four bathrooms, a sunroom and a three-car garage; he tells us he bought it 17 years earlier for less than the wedding he throws his daughter costs. One of the cars George parks in there is his cherry 1959 Austin-Healey 3000; they’ve also got a classic Jeep Cherokee with the wood paneling on the side. When his daughter returns home from studying abroad at the start of the film, he tells her he can get them into a Lakers game and also tickets to a Paul Simon concert. He’s married to Nina, who is played by Meyers’ favorite collaborator, Diane Keaton, only one of the most stylish people ever. His kids seem well-adjusted. He seems to have a good inside game on the home basketball court. He’s supposedly a master guacamole maker. And we haven’t even gotten to the fits.
Martin has always looked sharp, from the white suits he wore in the 1970s, to the greaser dentist look in Little Shop of Horrors, from his time as the high-priest of Bistro Vibes in L.A. Story all the way to today, as a stylish 70-something on the Upper West Side in Only Murders in the Building. But when he stepped into the role of George Banks in 1991, he went full American Cool Dad. Martin was always hilarious and cool, but all of a sudden, well into his 40s, he became full-on #goals. He’s got the casual Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani game on lock. It’s all very subtle, but also big. The vibe was denim shirts paired with a paisley tie, houndstooth blazer, baggy slacks, and hightop sneakers that look like maybe something the 4th or 5th best player in the NBA was the spokesperson for at the time. Three decades before Todd Snyder put out an L.L. Bean collab, Martin’s character was convinced of the greatness of that brand’s chamois shirts. His entire look was of its time, but also ahead of it.
He also looked shockingly at ease. That’s probably because Martin’s movie costumes were basically indistinguishable from his real-life wardrobe. Just look up photos of him from the early ’90s: Ralph Lauren Sportsman hats you’d pay up to $300 for today; baggy Armani blazers; wide wale cords; striped oxfords. A mix of relaxed and refined: not quite preppy, but with playful elements of it. The Steve Martin look of the early 1990s reflects what makes a Meyers film so great: there’s a real sense of mise en place. Everything is where it belongs.
And here we are, 30 years later, referencing all those style points. Martin looks great, Keaton looks great, Martin Short’s got on a Hermès vest at one point, BD Wong has an incredible ponytail. Nothing too bad really happens in the film and everything turns out great in the end. It’s easy, it’s breezy, it’s fun, funny and it all looks so adult. So many of us first watched that movie, or maybe another of Meyers’s, and thought, “Wow, being grown up looks really perfect.” Then we grew up and found out it’s really anything but. And that’s disappointing, of course. But the Nancy Meyers Effect never wears off.