Genre: Romantic Comedy and Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.
Release Date: April 15th, 1994 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Mike Newell Actors: Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, John Hannah, Simon Callow, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charlotte Coleman, Rowan Atkinson, David Haig, Anna Chancellor, James Fleet, David Bower
harles (Hugh Grant, perfecting his signature stammering, awkward, yet endearing persona) and his flatmate Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) are late yet again, this time for the wedding of friends Angus and Laura. Their other attending pals, including Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas), Tom (James Fleet), Matthew (John Hannah), Gareth (Simon Callow), and David (David Bower), aren’t surprised. Even when Charles forgets to bring the rings, it’s a hurdle overcome by a quick, spur-of-the-moment fix. And, as it turns out, Charles’ love life closely resembles his lack of punctuality and his continual unpreparedness. When he meets American Carrie (Andie MacDowell, pleasant yet somewhat miscast) during the reception, it’s love at first sight. But she spontaneously returns to the States, leaving him to trudge along with his friends as they slowly find spouses and happiness – resulting in additional weddings at which Charles can momentarily reconnect with the visiting Carrie, increasing his yearning (and sporadically sating it) but never permanently curing his lovesickness.
It’s a fairy tale of sorts, using loads of comedy to embellish a classic premise of single people searching for romantic partners or pining over unrequited love (something of a feature-length adaptation of the idiom “always a bridesmaid, never a bride”). There are instances of R-rated material, but it’s generally airy, sweet, and lacking in severity. Perhaps this is due to the subtler, dryer British humor, or the careful way in which the personas are crafted; these are all ordinary, relatable people, enjoying friendships and relationships in down-to-earth settings (their careers are never even mentioned). Neither extreme wealth nor extreme poverty play a part, aiding in just how average and universal the pursuit of true love typically feels.
The film is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, too, occasionally from slapstick-oriented sexuality, the spectacularly flamboyant Gareth (Simon Callow), or a tongue-tied priest (Rowan Atkinson in a small but unforgettable role), but mostly from interactions that reveal believable follies of love. Thanks to Richard Curtis’ humorous script (he would go on to write “Notting Hill” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary”), there’s an uncommon honesty to the crisscrossing story arcs concerning Charles – growing ever more desperate – as he participates in marriage ceremonies that tend to amplify his loneliness. Curtis’ way with words, paired with exceptional acting (noteworthy here in what could have been a forgettable, generic romantic comedy), generates plenty of recognizable scenarios and characters that never appear over-the-top, even when contrivances – and expected reappearances – purposefully pepper the plot. The circle of friends receives a considerable amount of screentime and character development, which fleshes out roles that might otherwise have been inconsequential; their involvement generously helps with the comic interludes and the central love affair rather than merely dragging out the running time with minor laughs.
As with many notable romcoms, serious moments also arise, adding to the realism but – in less adept hands – dragging down the levity. As given away by the title, a prominent funeral introduces somber notes, while failed couplings and unrealized unions create sympathy for many of the supporting parts. Here, the more sorrowful pieces actually increase the potency of the successful pairings; without seeing the ways in which relationships fail, it would be harder to appreciate the eventual triumphs. Curiously, the finale (which is designed to be something of a mystery, drawing out anticipation for Charles’ final stab at nuptials) manufactures a rather sticky debacle that stretches the boundaries of sensibleness, yet it’s just one more trying component that sweetens the satisfaction when the film finally gives audiences what they want. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” may not be the best picture of the year (it was nevertheless nominated for a Best Picture Oscar – a particularly rare accomplishment for a comedy), but it’s surely director Mike Newell’s most enchanting work, as well as a likable, heartwarming bit of entertainment that propelled Grant’s career and proved to be box office gold.
– Mike Massie