Four Weddings and a Funeral


Action / Comedy / Drama / Romance


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Hugh Grant as Charles - Wedding One
Andie MacDowell as Carrie - Wedding One
Rowan Atkinson as Father Gerald - Wedding Two
Kristin Scott Thomas as Fiona - Wedding One

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by James Hitchcock 8 / 10

A British Romantic Comedy as Good as Hollywood at its Best

Richard Curtis's films have sometimes been criticised for giving a too cosy, conservative view of British society. "Four Weddings and a Funeral" seems to take place in an England of eternal summer, a land which consists almost entirely of green and pleasant countryside and the more exclusive districts of London and which is populated solely by members of the upper and upper-middle classes. The script does cross the border into an equally idealised Scotland of mists, tartans and Highland flings, but even these scenes were actually shot in Surrey. Such criticism contains an element of truth, but is largely irrelevant when it comes to assessing the merits of the film because it ignores the fact that most romantic comedies (in other media as well as in the cinema) are set against a relatively narrow background in terms of social class, often enabling the writer to satirise the manners of that class. Jane Austin, for example, the most successful writer of romantic comedy in nineteenth-century England, set all her works among the wealthy landed gentry or prosperous bourgeoisie of the day.

Most of the action of the film takes place either at, or immediately before or after, one of the four church services mentioned in the title. The main character, Charles, is a well-to-do young man, probably educated at public school, and clearly a member of the professional classes, although we never actually discover what his job is. The film starts with a wedding at which Charles is best man to Angus, one of his old friends, and at which he meets Carrie, an attractive young American woman. The film then traces the ups and downs of the relationship of Charles and Carrie, via two more weddings (the second of which is Carrie's own, after she and Charles have split up), the funeral of Gareth, another friend of Charles who suffers a heart attack while dancing at Carrie's wedding, and one final marriage ceremony.

Hugh Grant, as Charles, gives a very good performance. Grant has a relatively narrow range as an actor, but he is capable of some excellent work within that range. There are some subtle differences between Charles and William, the character Grant played in "Notting Hill", another romantic comedy written by Curtis. William is a shy young man who uses ironic, self-deprecating humour as a cover for his shyness and lack of self-confidence. He is very much in love with Anna, that film's heroine, but is afraid to declare his love because he cannot believe that a beautiful and successful film star would take any interest in the owner of a small bookshop. Charles, by contrast, is less shy than William and enjoys more success with women. His humour is also ironic, but for a different reason. He is afraid of his emotions and of commitment and uses irony as a means of distancing himself from life and of avoiding having to commit himself.

The film can be seen as the story of Charles's journey to emotional maturity. He has had a number of brief affairs, all of which have petered out precisely because he is afraid of his emotions. His relationship with Carrie initially goes the same way and she marries a richer and older man. The change in Charles's character is partly due to the fact that he sees his carefree bachelor world disappearing as most of his friends get married, but the event which seems to have the greatest effect on him is Gareth's funeral, at which a moving eulogy is read by Matthew, Gareth's gay partner, touchingly played by John Hannah. Charles realises the strength of the love that Gareth and Matthew shared for one another and comes to appreciate that such a relationship is something to be valued.

Grant does well to make Charles a sympathetic figure, despite his having many failings quite apart from his ironic distancing of himself from the world. He is clumsy, accident-prone (he manages to lose the ring at Angus's wedding), much given to profane language and can be appallingly tactless, especially about his former girlfriends. The other main character, Carrie, can perhaps be seen as a female Charles, someone who is on the same journey as him but who has travelled slightly further. (It is significant that her name is short for Caroline, the feminine equivalent of the name Charles). She freely admits to having had over thirty previous lovers, but she is the first to want to bring emotional commitment to their relationship. Am I, incidentally, the only one to have liked Andie MacDowell's performance?- she has come in for a lot of criticism, in my view undeserved, on this board.

The film is, however, more than simply a study of relationships- it is also very funny with some superb lines. Hugh Grant can be very amusing, and there was a great cameo from Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling, nervous trainee priest who keeps fluffing his lines during one of the weddings. ("Awful wedded wife", or "Holy Goat" for "Holy Ghost"). I also liked David Bower as Charles's deaf brother David, the late Charlotte Coleman as his impudent younger sister Scarlett and Anna Chancellor as his ex-girlfriend Henrietta (also known as Duckface), whose embarrassing emotional incontinence perhaps explains why Charles is so keen to distance himself from his feelings. I was less impressed by Simon Callow as Gareth, loud, extrovert and excessively hearty (like most characters Callow plays).

To sum up, this was a very good film indeed; proof that the British cinema can produce romantic comedies as good as Hollywood at its best. 8/10

Reviewed by jhclues 9 / 10

Romantic Comedy Done Right

The effects of personal want, need, love and desire on the friendships of a circle of eclectic individuals is examined with a spot of humor in the witty, clever and oh-so-British comedy of love, romance and finding that special someone, `Four Weddings and a Funeral,' directed by Mike Newell. Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell head a delightful ensemble cast in this story of a group of long-time friends, all single, who watch and participate over a period of months as one by one those amongst them step up at last to the altar. Of them all, Charles (Grant) seems the most likely-- and at the same time the least likely-- to be next. Young, handsome and charismatic, Charles has no problem developing a relationship (he's had a number, in fact, as we learn in one particularly hilarious scene), but sustaining one is seemingly beyond his grasp. Until, at the wedding of one of his friends, he meets Carrie (MacDowell), an American, and she quickly enchants him. It is not the end of the story, however; for Charles, Carrie and the audience, it's only-- as they say-- the beginning.

Set in contemporary England, one of the aspects of this film that makes it so engaging is the propriety with which the humor is presented. Refreshingly subtle, there's more of Noel Coward than Tom Green or Rob Schneider to it; a matter of manners, mores and innuendo taking precedence over gross-out, in-your-face, shock schlock humor. And though Grant and MacDowell are at the forefront of the piece, Newell does an excellent job of developing all of the characters, succinctly supplying enough detail to each individual to give the film some depth and dimension, without having to actually go too deep. He never lets you forget that first and foremost, this is a comedy. There's some insight provided, but this is not an in-depth commentary on human nature, though there are some overtones and implications in that direction (Charles is always late to the weddings, for example; perhaps a subconscious denial of the impending nuptials?). Most importantly, the characterizations are rich, and the story is involving and presented with an even flow that allows you to effortlessly be swept away with it.

Certain actors make a career out of playing a variation of the same character in film after film, striving for that definitive portrayal. W.C. Fields played the hen-pecked husband in a number of films, finally perfecting that particular character in the person of Harold Bissonette in `It's A Gift.' For Hugh Grant, it's the retiring, somewhat self-conscious and stammering, eyelid fluttering charmer, of which he's done a variation in such films as `Sense and Sensibility,' `The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill, But Came Down A Mountain,' Notting Hill' and `Mickey Blue Eyes.' But Charles is his definitive portrayal of that character, the one in which he achieves the balance and honesty that makes the character so believable. It's a good bit of work by Grant, and definitely one of his most memorable performances.

Andie MacDowell, meanwhile, gives a rather composed performance as Carrie, the quiet American with a reserved bluntness who captivates Charles. MacDowell brings a sense of quietude to the role that is sensuously seductive, which lends credibility to Charles' infatuation with her. It's a role for which MacDowell is perfectly suited, as it allows her to play effectively to her naturally calm demeanor and exquisite beauty and femininity.

In a part that has to be an actor's dream, Simon Callow is absolutely exuberant as Gareth, one of the fixtures of Charles' circle of friends. More than just an effervescent character, Gareth is something of the conscience of the film, laughing away and laying bare any and all pretense or hypocrisy like a modern day flesh-and-blood Spirit of Christmas Present. It's a character that gives needed balance and perspective to the film, and he's wonderfully played by Callow.

Also turning in especially noteworthy performances are John Hannah as Matthew; Kristin Scott Thomas, who is quite alluring as Fiona; James Fleet as Tom, a character very reminiscent of his Hugo in the TV series `The Vicar of Dibley,' (and very effective here); Charlotte Coleman, memorable in the role of Scarlett; and Rowan Atkinson as the hapless Father Gerald.

Rounding out the supporting cast are David Bower (David), Timothy Walker (Angus), Sara Crowe (Laura), Anna Chancellor (Henrietta), Simon Kunz (John), David Haig (Bernard), Sophie Thompson (Lydia Jane) and Corin Redgrave (Hamish). There's enough twists and turns along the way to keep this film unpredictable, including one scene near the end that initially seems so mean-spirited that it may have you biting your fist and crying, `Oh, NO!' But, not to worry, Newell provides an instant resolution consistent with the rest of the film, and it not only works but gets a good laugh to boot. Entertaining, pleasant and funny, `Four Weddings and a Funeral' makes for a satisfying, feel-good cinematic experience that just seems so wonderfully civilized amid the seemingly endless rancor abounding in our world today. It's what's known as the magic of the movies. I rate this one 9/10.

Reviewed by Spleen 9 / 10

A note to the anti-Andie brigade

I'm blind to the alleged charm of Andie MacDowell myself. That's why I think that casting her in this film was a stroke of genius, for so far as my senses tell me she perfectly fits the character she plays: a dull beauty who casts a spell over one out of every twenty men she meets, leaving the remaining nineteen cold and completely baffled. Charlie (Hugh Grant) is surrounded by MUCH more desirable female friends - even Duckface has something going for her - but instead of so much as noticing them he falls head over heels for an unattainable woman who is, on top of everything else, boring. Would have been as good as it is if Charlie's passion had made SENSE? Of course not.

Anyway, everyone I know with a low opinion of this film begins the case for the prosecution with an attack on Andie MacDowell. Is there anything else to dislike? I can't see it myself. This is one of the world's few perfect comedies, devoid of longeurs - perhaps the funeral didn't have quite the desired effect - with true comedy and a nice selection of characters. One has no difficulty keeping the dozen or so members of the main set mentally separate. How many romantic comedies can you say THAT about?

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