Four Weddings and a Funeral

(Dir. Mike Newell 1994)

This film was a monstrously enormous hit, and made a lot of people a lot of money. It is easy enough to see why it was a big hit. For a start, it was hyped to the gunnels, but also it has a great collection of characters, a romantic story, some funny gags, and some well-constructed scenes.

It stars Hugh Grant, and he is excellent in the part as the stammering charmer Charles. It is through his character that the tale is told, and we must sympathise with him, and want him to find happiness, and this we do. However, we never find out much about him. We never learn what job he does, if any, nor if he has any family. The only things we know about him are that he has a collection of good friends, and that he is quite posh and nice. I think that the film would have been stronger had we discovered just a couple more basic facts about him. He seems to exist in a curious vacuum which makes him a bit less real, and so less to be cared about.

Charles lives with someone called Scarlett. We never find out anything about her either, and some people on seeing the film take her to be Charles's sister, but she is just a friend of his who happens to live in the same flat. Scarlett is one of the cast of characters that we see all the way through the film, and each of these gets a little scene or two in which to shine.

The film opens with an exercise in making swearing charming and English. Posh English people often swear a lot, and I see no reason why the world should be shielded from this knowledge. Charles and Scarlett arrive late, as usual, to a wedding, where Charles is the best man. At this wedding Charles sees a beautiful woman, Carrie played by Andie MacDowell, and she becomes his object of desire for the rest of the film. The attraction Charles has for her seems to be based entirely on looks. I think that it would be better to have a scene in which the desired figure does something more than be beautiful to deserve being so loyally longed-for.

I have to write something about the performance that Kristin Scott Thomas gives in this film, as one of Charles's old friends. Hers is not a huge role, but she makes every syllable count, and on seeing the film for a second and third time, I was able to spot how much she got across in just a few lines. There is a scene in which she makes a great admission to Charles, and she is in this absolutely spell-binding. Her every gesture makes her compulsive viewing. At one point she puts a cigarette in her mouth, and then appears to pick out some particle of it that has stuck to her lip. Perhaps this actually happened and was not acting, but I suspect that instead it was consciously contrived and brilliantly executed. It is a tiny thing, but it adds considerable power to the scene. It is little wonder that she went on to star in several other films.

Another of Charles's friends is a larger-than-life man who is wildly ostentatious in manner. Aptly, they found Simon Callow for the part.

The story follows Charles as he attends weddings, and events connected with them. He is obsessed with the beautiful American, and, as is necessary in a romance, he gets her and loses her again. The title of the film promises a funeral, and this we get, and it is used effectively to change the pace of the film, and develop characters and plot. It is not played for comedy.

There is one big central flaw with this film. The flaw is with Andie MacDowell and her character. While this actress is certainly good-looking, she doesn't appear to understand the funny lines she is asked to deliver. She stands out as the least witty, characterful, interesting, and lively person in the film. Worse still, her character is not a nice person. She behaves very badly in the film, and seems to feel no remorse at all. She has flings with other men which are coldly casual, and we the audience are likely to form the impression that Charles is better off without her. For a romantic film like this to work, we have to want the hero to get the heroine, but in this film it seems that a true friend of Charles's would tell him that he's an idiot to chase this woman. We are never given a reason to like her. The only way she is made comparatively attractive, is by the introduction of a potential wife for Charles who is even worse.

In many ways, the follow-up film to this, Notting Hill is a much stronger film. The central romance in that film works, because the character played by Julia Roberts seems to have genuine affection for Hugh Grant's character, and so we feel happy to see him chasing her. His character is also grounded in reality since we know that he runs a travel-book shop. Despite this, Four Weddings and a Funeral is likely to be seen in future years as the greater work, not because of the whole, but because of the sum of the parts. There are so many moments in it, almost all involving Charles and his friends, that stick in the mind. It's got lots of good bits.

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