Should I Watch..? 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'
What's the big deal?
Four Weddings And A Funeral is a romantic comedy film released in 1994 and is widely regarded as one of the most successful British films of all time. The film made a star of its lead actor Hugh Grant who plays one of a number of friends who meet socially at functions who finds himself falling for an American who somehow remains beyond his reach. The film also stars Andie MacDowell, James Fleet, Simon Callow, John Hannah, Kristin Scott Thomas and Rowan Atkinson. Written by Richard Curtis (who would go on to pen the films Notting Hill and Love Actually - both also starring Grant), the film was directed by Mike Newell and had a small budget of just under £3 million. However, the film's runaway success led to global takings of more than $245 million and the film was granted a positive reception from critics and numerous awards and nominations.
What's it about?
Charles is one of a group of friends who usually meet up and reminisce at various social functions. At the wedding of friends Angus and Laura (where Charles is the best man), socially awkward Charles and the others discuss whether any of them will be married in the future. Suddenly, Charles meets the beautiful American Carrie and hopelessly falls in love with her. After they spend the night together, Charles realises that Carrie is his one true love but she jokingly dismisses the idea before heading back to the US.
Fearing that he may have missed his opportunity with Carrie, Charles then meets her again at a second wedding - this time between friend Bernard and Lydia. As Charles continues to flounder in his attempts to woo Carrie, his friends Henrietta (known as Duckface) and gay couple Gareth and Matthew continue to pester him to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, Charles and Carrie meet again at a third wedding - Carrie's...
Kristin Scott Thomas
Release Date (UK)
13th May, 1994
Comedy, Drama, Romance
Academy Award Nominations
Best Picture, Best Screenplay Written For The Screen
What's to like?
Anyone who accuses Richard Curtis of sticking to a similar formula can hardly blame him when this film became a smash hit. Four Weddings And A Funeral became so synonymous with the British film industry that it's easy to forget that we produced films in the Nineties that weren't fluffy rom-coms. Grant, unsurprisingly, is the star of the show with his perfectly-pitched stuttering and English mannerisms a sublime fit for the role of stuttering Englishman Charles. As is often the case with Curtis' screenplays, the supporting cast is just as important with wonderful performances from the likes of Callow, Hannah and Fleet who feels like an apprentice to Grant's shtick.
The film is a wonderfully observed comedy with eccentric characters that are somehow familiar to all of us. The verbal gaffes and misunderstandings continue the British tradition of such comic devices seen in the likes of the Carry On movies and in what would become a Curtis trademark, the film has a surprisingly decent soundtrack. But the film also has a genuinely emotive sucker-punch, a curveball from nowhere that not only illustrates how much we empathise with the characters but also how much we care about them. The film is one of those that makes you hold on to your own loved ones just a little tighter.
- Instead of a salary for her performance, MacDowell negotiated a percentage of the film's profits. This meant that she was paid $2 million while co-star Grant only received $100'000.
- This was the first of five rom-coms written by Curtis and featuring Grant in a lead role. The others are Notting Hill, Bridget Jones' Diary, Love Actually and Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason.
- It was at the film's premier that Grant's then-girlfriend Liz Hurley wore her infamous black Versace "safety pin" dress, which stole much of the limelight.
- Former Conservative Home Secretary Amber "Rudderless" Rudd recruited many of the film's extras under the title "Aristocracy Co-Ordinator".
What's not to like?
In fact, the movie was so successful that there was initially some backlash in some quarters. The film's lead song, Wet Wet Wet's cover of Love Is All Around by the Troggs, topped the UK singles chart for an astonishing fifteen weeks and the film was criticised by some for being too light and sugary. However, I disagree - yes, the film may exist in a postcard-version of England that only appears in movies with upper-class characters but the comedy is more observational, relying less on withering put-downs and toilet humour that we see all too often. It isn't as amusing as Curtis' later work (Rhys Ifans' brilliant supporting role in Notting Hill is genuinely funny) and feels like one murder away from being a Agatha Christie adaptation.
The other thing that slightly spoils the film is MacDowell although she is not really to blame. The role of Carrie feels terribly under-written - she's just an American dream woman who pops up and disappears whenever the film seems to feel like it and it just doesn't give her enough to do in the film besides look pretty and smile a lot - not entirely unlike Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. Otherwise, this feels pretty much business as normal for a Curtis film - if you've seen any of his other films then you'll know exactly what to expect from this. A few surprises might not have gone amiss.
Should I watch it?
There's no getting around the fact that Four Weddings And A Funeral is a highly enjoyable film, full of rock-solid performances and gentle humour with only the faintest hint of edge (not to mention the odd F-bomb or two). Maybe I was expecting too much from such a critically revered and influential film but as rom-coms go, this is far better than much of the competition.
Great For: UK chart success, Curtis's reputation as a screenwriter, Hugh Grant, rom-com fans
Not So Great For: typecast actors, posh English viewers, anyone who doesn't like Wet Wet Wet
What else should I watch?
Personally, I'm not a fan of rom-coms although there are some that I enjoyed. It may be controversial to admit it but I preferred Notting Hill which sees Grant's stuttering English bookstore owner fall for Hollywood megastar Julia Roberts. True, it doesn't stretch either of its stars too much but it has a stronger supporting cast led by Ifans and the late Emma Chambers, inspired direction by Roger Mitchell (I adore the market scene which goes through all four seasons seamlessly as Grant wonders between the stalls) and a better soundtrack. For me, Love Actually is a bit too much for me as it crams in several short rom-com films in and around Christmas. It's so sugary, I can get diabetes from the opening credits.
While Grant has basically made a living off this film for the duration of his career by appearing in nothing but rom-coms, MacDowell's career floundered and had pretty much dried up by the end of the decade. Nevertheless, she does appear in one of my all-time favourite films Groundhog Day as the long-suffering producer to Bill Murray's grumpy weatherman forced to endure the worst day of his life over and over again. Simultaneously hilarious, tragic and thought-provoking, it is simply a work of genius.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox