Stanley and Ellie Banks (Tracy and Bennett) are an upper-middle-class Long Island couple with three children, the eldest of whom is 20-year-old daughter Kay (Taylor). Kay rather casually admits to her parents that she is engaged to marry one Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor). The main plot involves the increasingly chaotic preparations for a fancy upscale wedding, and Stanley's increasing anxiety over the enormous bill that he, as the bride's father, has to pay. Eventually it becomes clear, however, that the real cause of Stanley's stress is separation anxiety over his only daughter growing up and leaving the nest.
One of the first grown-up roles for Elizabeth Taylor, who neatly averted Former Child Star syndrome and made a smooth transition into playing adult roles. Minnelli and the cast reunited a year later for a well-received sequel, Father's Little Dividend, which centers around Stanley's consternation at becoming a grandfather.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The film opens with Stanley, sitting in a chair amidst the wreckage of a wedding party, addressing the camera directly and telling the story. After this Opening Monologue the Fourth Wall is restored and Stanley becomes a more conventional Narrator.
- Bumbling Dad: Stanley's discomfort over his daughter's wedding and his inability to control the rapidly rising cost of the ceremony are the main sources of humor.
- Catapult Nightmare: Stanley's anxiety over the wedding manifests itself in a nightmare in which his clothes are ripped to shreds and he falls through the floor while walking down the wedding aisle. The nightmare ends and he bolts up in bed in standard style.
- Daddy's Girl: Stanley adores his daughter and is upset that she's leaving the nest."You fathers will understand. You have a little girl. She looks up to you. You're her oracle. You're her hero. And then the day comes when she gets her first permanent wave and goes to her first real party, and from that day on, you're in a constant state of panic."
- Deadpan Snarker: Stanley, both in dialogue and in narration.
- Stanley buries his face in his hands when he gets a look at Buckley and realizes that Buckley is "that musclebound man with the shoulders" that he remembered in the Terrible Interviewees Montage.
- Stanley does this again when the chandelier is dropped and shattered. He doesn't even turn around to look.
- Favoritism Flip Flop: Kay and Buckley are going out. Stanley suggests she wears a coat because it's cold, but Kay declines. When Buckley says she should, she does, causing Stanley to have an emotional moment as he realizes he's losing his daughter.
- Give Away the Bride: A very sad moment for Stanley."Who giveth this woman? "This woman." But she's not a woman. She's still a child. And she's leaving us. What's it going to be like to come home and not find her? Not to hear her voice calling "Hi, Pops" as I come in? I suddenly realized what I was doing. I was giving up Kay. Something inside me began to hurt."
- Have a Gay Old Time: "What's the matter with her? Sounds kind of queer."
- How We Got Here: The film opens with Stanley amidst the wreckage of the wedding party, and then jumps back to the beginning of the story.
- Hypocritical Humor: Stanley rants about how the excessively long list of wedding guests is costing him even more money. But when Ellie suggests cutting the Sandway family, Stanley calls Harry one of his oldest friends and insists that the Stanways come.
- Lohengrin and Mendelssohn: Lohengrin ("Here Comes the Bride") is heard in a distorted, nightmarish version as Stanley is having his Catapult Nightmare.
- No Antagonist: The wedding costs a lot, and Stanley is having separation anxiety over his daughter leaving, but there's no bad guy.
- Of Corsets Funny: Stanley desperately tries to fit into his old tuxedo, and just barely manages hit, although Ellie observes that the button will put someone's eye out if it comes loose. Then when he's trying to open a window his tuxedo coat splits down the middle.
- Opening Monologue: Stanley has an opening monologue in which he talks about his daughter getting married.
- Serious Business: Most of the film is about rich people spending a lot of money on a fancy wedding, and how stuff like a big cake and an orchestra are a big deal.
- Sleeping Single: How did Stanley and Ellie conceive three children? The world may never know.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: A montage early in the film has Stanley remembering all the suitors for Kay that have appeared in the house, all of whom he found annoying. He is horrified when he finds out that Buckley actually was one of them.
- Title Drop: Stanley tells one of his sons that he's looking forward to "my turn to present you to the father of the bride as my only contribution."