Film Review: Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Four Weddings and a Funeral recently turned 25. It hit the screens in the spring of 1994, becoming a runaway hit launching the trajectory of its star into a whole new career orbit. Yes, indeed, Hugh Grant’s career has never been the same after starring in Four Weddings and a Funeral. He won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for his role. The movie instigated a whole series of lucrative rom-com collaborations between Grant and Richard Curtis, the writer. Many Curtis-Grant blockbusters followed: Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Love Actually (2003). Truly, Four Weddings and a Funeral is considered a modern-day, rom-com classic.

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Besides starring Hugh Grant and being written by Richard Curtis, Four Weddings and a Funeral is directed by the much-lauded Mike Newell and sports an all-star cast. Andie MacDowell, Kristin Scott Thomas, Simon Callow, John Hannah, James Fleet, Anna Chancellor, Corin Redgrave, Rowan Atkinson, Sophie Thompson – all make memorable appearances here.

As its title suggests, Four Weddings and a Funeral is essentially episodic in nature. It follows a group of friends and acquaintances as they meet up again and again at four weddings and one funeral over the course of 15 months, give or take. It’s about this group of friends trying to find love, hold on to it, admit it, let it go, and on it goes. As the opening song croons, “Every happy plot ends in the marriage knot.”

Bad Timing

Charles (Hugh Grant) is late for a very important date – his good friend Angus’s wedding. And he’s the best man. This lateness is a pattern of behavior for Charles, which becomes increasingly obvious as the film progresses. He’s very bumbling and very endearing in all his awkward charm. In short, he’s everything Hugh Grant became known for (-:

But at this wedding, Charles glimpses a fair maiden and is immediately drawn to her. Her name’s Carrie (Andie MacDowell), she’s American, and she seems to be as intrigued by him as he is by her. But one mishap and situation and comedic error after another ensure that these two never seem to get past the brief niceties of small talk. Something or someone is always interrupting what we recognize as the very important meet cute. They’re never really allowed to meet.

When they do privately meet, it’s very passionate and very brief, and there’s never an opportunity for them to build anything beyond this initial chemistry. And on it goes. Wedding after wedding, there are hook-ups and near hook-ups and many comedic mishaps. And some sad stuff too, but I don’t want to spoil it here. We are so rooting for these two to find one another, to drop their well-practiced guards and admit to and embrace the love blossoming between them. And I will say no more on the plot front here.

Still a Classic

Four Weddings and a Funeral is considered a modern-day classic of the rom-com genre and for good reason. The tight, theatrical framing of the film in these five episodes or scenes is still very fresh. And it helps to keep the writing sharp and witty and funny, as well as poignant. It’s always on pace, never suffering from weird asides or lackluster tangents or slow sections.

There are also many eminently quotable lines and memorable scenes, all being said and performed by some talented actors. There’s a rain scene that’s become iconic. John Hannah’s recitation of a W.H. Auden poem is still as touching today as it was then. Rowan Atkinson’s tongue-slipping priest muddling through a marriage ceremony is everlasting comedic gold.

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There’s also a restraint in the telling. We never really do learn what Charles or Carrie or any of them do for a living. We only ever see them at weddings, where they aren’t talking about work. And I can’t think of another blockbuster rom-com where the climactic point is declared in sign language, in what is not spoken. Well, maybe in Love Actually, another Richard Curtis film, where it’s cue cards. But it’s something of a theme in Four Weddings and a Funeral, leaving things unsaid. It makes for very engaging viewing.

Yes, it all combines into a satisfying viewing experience, even 25 years later. It’s aging well. See it, or see it again (and again and again) as the case may be.

Content Note: Rated R for language and some sexuality. There are many f-bombs dropped in Four Weddings and a Funeral, so many so and in so many variations that it ends in farcical over-the-topness. All said in muttering abstraction for the most part as well. So never in anger or as threats or directed at others in meanness. But for American censors, it was more than enough to get the R-stamp. Other countries – not so restrictive on swearing – list the film as PG-13 or thereabouts. The couple of sex scenes show no nudity and are fairly moderate in their depictions – some movement and noises.

Where to Watch: DVD.


Photo Credit: PolyGram, Working Title and Channel Four.

OVERALL RATING

Four and a half corset rating

“You had me at hello.”

ROMANCE RATING

Five heart rating

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

I have loved none but you.”

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