Synopsis: The film follows the fortunes of Charles and his friends as they wonder if they will every find true love and marry. Charles thinks he’s found “Miss Right” in Carrie, an American. This subtle British comedy revolves around Charlie, his friends and the four weddings and one funeral which they attend.
As enchanting and memorable as any four-star affair, this light-hearted, frothy and hilarious “little” film from the creators of Notting Hill and Love Actually took the world by storm in 1994, garnering four British Academy Awards and a nomination for the Best Picture Oscar!
eyelights: the ensemble cast. the hilarious script.
eyesores: the inexplicable attraction that Charles has for Carrie.
“Gareth used to prefer funerals to weddings. He said it was easier to get enthusiastic about a ceremony one had an outside chance of eventually being involved in.”
‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ is a British motion picture about a group of tightly-knit friends who find themselves stringed from one wedding to another, looking for love but never finding it. It was the sleeper hit of 1994, earning 250 million dollars at the box office on a 5 million dollar budget.
It was not just a box office smash, it was a critical success as well, landing dozens of prestigious award nominations and winning more than half of them. It made a star of Hugh Grant virtually overnight and made Richard Curtis the go-to writer/director for romantic comedies for at least ten years.
It may not seem like much at first glance, but ‘Four Weddings…’ is a cleverly-written comedy. In fact, even though it falls in the “romantic comedy” fold, it’s actually more of an ensemble comedy that happens to have romance as its backdrop; it eschews many of the conventions of typical romantic comedies.
As the title suggests, the picture takes place over the course of four weddings and a funeral – or approximately 16 months, if you must know. It was inspired by Richard Curtis’ realization that he’d been to 72 weddings over the course of 10 years. He apparently wrote the part of Charles based on his own persona.
The picture doesn’t waste any time with the events taking place between these ceremonies, nor does it waste any time introducing us to its cast members, in a droll sequence that shows the lot of them preparing for a wedding – with Charles and Scarlett running extremely late and cursing their luck the whole way.
Especially since he’s the best man.
We soon discover how close this group of friends happen to be: they’re all sitting together at the ceremony, and they watch out for each other (for instance, when Charles discovers that he’s forgotten the rings, they all work together to remedy the situation). It instantly highlights their personalities.
‘Four Weddings…’ has fun at its characters’ expense, but it also likes to poke fun at everything that surrounds marriage (roles, social expectations, formalities, ceremony, …etc.). One perfect example of this are the hilariously inappropriate speeches that Charles and Tom give at separate weddings.
But it’s really the cast of characters that are our tether in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, without which the picture might seem like mere satire:
“My job today is to talk about Angus. There are no skeletons in his cupboard. Or so I thought. I’ll come on to that in a minute. I would just like to say this. I am, as ever, in bewildered awe of anyone who makes this kind of commitment that Angus and Laura have made today. I know I couldn’t do it and I think it’s wonderful they can. So, back to Angus and those sheep.”
Charles is a handsome but mildly neurotic, faux-pas prone, stammering, worry-wart. At the start of the picture Charles expresses an inability to commit to marriage, and yet he longs for a long-term relationship with the right person. Hugh Grant is absolutely perfect in the part, balancing social awkwardness with a winsome smile and glimmering eyes. He’s so perfect, in fact, that this persona would become his on-screen alter ego for a number of years thereafter. Thankfully for him (as an actor), he was able to shed it with time; he didn’t get pigeon-holed like Woody Allen did.
Charles’ brother is deaf and doesn’t get much screen time, but he does get a few key moments, such as the revelation of Charles’ feelings at the final wedding. And he scores with a beautiful young woman who goes to all the trouble of learning sign language just to talk to him. David Bower, who plays David, is actually deaf. He hasn’t performed much, but he likeable enough in this part.
“What’s bonking?” “Well, it’s kinda like table tennis, only with slightly smaller balls.”
Scarlett is Charles flatmate. She is a quirky little number with flaming red hair and a flamboyant sense of style. Her personality is as colourful as her appearance is. If anything, she serves as a sort of side-kick for Charles, tagging along and commenting. Charlotte Coleman was perfectly, delightfully quirky in the part. And very funny.
“I was a lesbian once at school, but only for about fifteen minutes.”
Fiona is a prim and proper member of the aristocracy. She gives the allure of an ice queen, but beneath that veneer she is pining for someone she will never have. I would say that this is one of Kristin Scott Thomas’ best roles, even if she looks like a drag queen: she makes Fiona stuffy, but also shows her vulnerability. I’d even say that hers is the best performance of the lot. She came a long way in the eight years since ‘Under the Cherry Moon’, where she showed no talent whatsoever.
“Unlike you, I never expected “the thunderbolt.” I always just hoped that, that I’d meet some nice friendly girl, like the look of her, hope the look of me didn’t make her physically sick, then pop the question and, um, settle down and be happy.”
Tom is Fiona’s brother. He is goofy, nerdy, awkward… and filthy rich (the 7th richest man in Great Britain, actually). But in truth he’s a simple man, who merely wants to have a simple life with a nice woman. Unfortunately, for all his business sense, he can’t charm the ladies. James Fleet is absolutely terrific in the part; he makes us empathize with Tom, making him endearing.
“I’ve got a new theory about marriage. Two people are in love, they live together, and then suddenly one day, they run out of conversation.”
Gareth is the elder statesman of the group. He’s loud, bitchy, sarcastic and a bon vivant to boot. One can hardly imagine getting past his omnipresent public persona, as he seems perpetually “on”, but he’s a lot of fun. Simon Callow absolutely sunk his teeth into this one, and is pure delight to watch; he brings so much life to the proceedings – the picture wouldn’t be the same without him.
“I remember the first time I saw Gareth on a dance floor. I feared lives would be lost.”
Mathew is Gareth’s partner. He’s absolutely lovely: congenial, level-headed and devoted. He doesn’t get many of the laughs or screen time, but John Hannah made the part a memorable one nonetheless (in particular, he made Matthew’s tribute to Gareth both whimsical and moving). He’s absolutely genius in ‘Sliding Doors’, but Matthew was his break-through part.
“In the name of the father, the son and the holy goat. Eh… ghost.”
Although it’s a bit part, Father Gerald (who is a friend of one of the families) is absolutely unforgettable, thanks in large part to Rowan Atkinson’s hilarious take on the priest-in-training. The timidity and nervousness he exudes during his first wedding ceremony is delivered in such a way that it’s comedic, but not so over-the-top that it’s not realistic. Atkinson walked a fine line with his performance and did so brilliantly.
“Our timing has been very bad.”
Carrie is an American girl who just happens to pop up at the first wedding and that Charles is immediately smitten with. She’s friendly, but sort of generic and aloof. She’s not especially funny, but she has a few amusing moments, especially when she tries to remember how many lovers she’s had – in the company of a gradually more distraught Charles. I’m no great fan of Andie MacDowell; she often feels fake, a little off-putting. But she acquits herself rather well here. I think the texts are her saving grace, as I think many other actresses could have made more of the part.
The picture breezes right by, with many little unexpected twists to keep us entertained from start to finish. It only hits a bump in the road at the funeral, when suddenly what was delightfully quirky suddenly became slightly sombre, but it perked up soon thereafter. Curtis and director Mike Newell pace this perfectly.
I found it interesting to note that the picture used songs that are in other well-loved romantic comedies: “But Not For Me”, which can be found in ‘Manhattan’ and ‘When Harry Met Sally‘, as well as “Love is All Around”, which was reworked into Richard Curtis’ own film ‘Love Actually‘ years later.
I guess there is a formula to romantic comedies, no matter how fresh a spin filmmakers put on a genre.
Because, even though many such films have since passed and it’s likely hard to tell now, ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ was a rare treat at the time of its release. I’ve seen it often enough that I wasn’t entirely motivated to watch it this time around, and yet it retains the freshness that made it box office gold.
If you haven’t already seen it, I would highly recommend seeing ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’; it’s truly one of the better entries in the genre. And if you’ve already seen it, I would certainly welcome you to revisit it. Even though it’s been twenty years, it’s one of those rare pictures that doesn’t show its age.
Date of viewing: Jan 6, 2015