“Annie was all grown up and leaving us. And something inside began to hurt.”
Annie Banks (Kimberly Williams) is getting married! She couldn’t be happier, fresh from a trip to Rome with her soon-to-be husband, Bryan (George Newbern). Her mother, Nina (Diane Keaton) is just as excited, but Annie’s father, George (Steve Martin) is harbored with anger and anxiety about the whole situation. As the wedding day looms nearer, George’s temper tantrums reach childish proportions.
George is a big baby.
Okay, so he actually makes some sense here. His daughter comes home from overseas with a fiancé in tow. Annie is a daddy’s girl, so George is now faced with the realization that there is another, more important man in her life – and it all happened so fast! Rather than accept the news with joy like Nina, George has all kinds of horrible thoughts racing through his head, with no one in the family backing up his concerns.
Some theories regard anxiety with admiration; it is a signal to our brain that something has threatened our environment, our survival, or our well-being. Even Nina can tell right away that George’s alarm bells are more sensitive to a crisis than hers, so she tries to reign George’s discomfort in before it can cause too much damage.
I don’t think George has a serious psychiatric disorder. It’s actually normal to be nervous when one of your children gets married. What’s weird is that George seems more nervous than anyone else. He steals his future in-laws’ bank book; he thinks he looks good in a too-small tuxedo; he even freaks out about hot dog buns. No one else appears to have the same worries that George does, so what is his problem, anyway?
Psychologists sometimes talk about defense mechanisms. These are built-in reactions that everyone has to situations that make them nervous. The defense mechanism is designed to protect us – hence, “defense” mechanism. However, some of these mechanisms are considered healthy, in that they allow someone to cope with a problem, while others are unhealthy, usually meaning they ignore or exacerbate the problem.
George appears to be using a defense mechanism called displacement to cope with his worries about Annie getting married. Instead of expressing his personal anxiety about “losing” his daughter, he grumbles about the cost of the wedding. Rather than take out his anxiety or frustration on Annie or Bryan, he uses The Wedding as the object of his discontent. He also watches America’s Most Wanted every night to see if he can spot Bryan.
Actually, I am kind of with George on that one.
“Nobody in My Family Overreacts”
Behaviors are learned. Anxiety and how to cope with it is learned by children from their parents, or at least that is what the literature suggests (movies suggest it too). Annie has a great moment after fighting with Bryan about a blender; she recounts the fight to her dad, explaining that she told Bryan, “Nobody in my family overreacts.” George, of course, knows differently. He does overreact. It’s his tried-and-true defense mechanism to take out his anxiety on a safe object or other person, rather than confronting the real target about his feelings. Annie’s not upset about a blender; she’s worried about her future husband’s expectations. George is not upset about the cost of a wedding; he’s worried about how his relationship with his daughter is going to change.
Although the supermarket lunacy and late-night TV watching are not normal, George’s feelings actually are coming from a pretty sane place.