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Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)::rating::3.5::rating::3.5

So much of dating feels like trying on a new wardrobe:  You have to sense the awkwardness of someone who doesn’t fit correctly to appreciate the magic of someone who does.  The characters in Four Weddings and a Funeral spend their time in fidgety frustration, waiting for the person who will add a fairy tale completion to their lives.  They attend a slew of weddings with an uneasy blend of anticipation and dread.  A soulmate could be out there, hanging on the same rack with one-night-stands and toxic relationships.

As the title suggests, the entire plot follows this rowdy band of  ragamuffins as they move from one big social happening to the next.  Charles (Hugh Grant) serves as the group’s de facto leader, probably because he has movie star looks and a fair amount of dweebish charisma.  Each member of his clique can be distinguished as such:  Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) is the lovely, lonely girl who carries a lifelong torch for Charles.  Tom (James Fleet) plays the resident fool.  Gareth (Simon Callow) and Matthew (John Hannah) are the ebullient gay couple.  Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) gives the squad a wild card.  With each new wedding, our heroes load up like clowns in a Volkswagen and go hunting for love, in whatever form it may take.

At the first wedding, Charles is gobsmacked when he meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell), a beautiful, charming American woman.  The resulting sparks supply the movie with its throughline:  Could this instant reaction lead to something lasting?  If what they have is true love, can it truly overcome all?  Charles and Carrie fall in and out of touch and date other people, but those electric feelings never seem to go away.

The weddings mix wry observations about finding and maintaining relationships with some proper British silliness:  A loony vicar (Rowan Atkinson) fumbles his way through the vows at a ceremony, while Charles forgets the rings at another.  He also gets stranded at a reception table populated with seething ex-girlfriends, and later has to (in what feels like a Fawlty Towers outtake) hide in a hotel room closet just as the newlyweds stumble in for a giddy, screaming roll in the sack.  Much of Four Weddings is filled with such bawdy, goofy humor.

If the farcical weddings fill the movie with fluff, then the funeral supplies an emotional center.  A key character dies, forcing everyone in the group to take a sober assessment of what they really want.  For Charles, this means wavering between a safe relationship with an annoying ex–who is, appropriately, named Hen–and the brilliant rapport he has with Carrie.  This conflict continues until the movie’s Wow Finish.  People have labeled this last scene as corny and over-the-top, but I think anything less would’ve let the movie down.

At the same time, I have to agree this movie has a few flaws, and they grow more apparent with every viewing.  Hugh Grant hems and haws to a maddening degree.  Some of his dialogue is delivered with the twitchy timidity of a sweaty man diffusing a nuclear bomb.  Just cut the god damn blue wire and move on.  MacDowell falls bizarrely flat.  She seems to be playing Carrie as subdued, even though the other characters yammer on how ebullient and bubbly she is.  Ironically, the real MacDowell is boisterous and outgoing, as her character is intended.  If she’d just played herself, the film would’ve worked much better.

And yet, I still wanted this couple to get together forever.  Maybe it’s the clever, breezy script from Richard Curtis, or the solid comic timing of most of the cast.  Whatever the case, this movie works and has held up remarkably well.  I saw this film as a child, and I enjoyed it in a broad sort of way.  It was goofy and cute.  But I didn’t really appreciate it until my 20s and 30s, when I got to experience being a groomsman, an usher, and a best man.  As I watched my friends marry off, I could suddenly relate to the joy and jealousy, the excitement and anxiety that Charles feels with each passing wedding.  That time of life was an unparalleled adventure, but this movie also reminds me why I’m glad it’s over.

117 min.  R.  HBOMax.

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