Four Weddings and a Funeral

(Mike Newell, UK, 1994)


What is the secret of this film’s extraordinary success?

On paper, it was not necessarily promising: a whimsical British comedy of manners, following the fortunes of a rag-tag bunch of friends through the vagaries of love, sex and modern relationships. I in fact avoided seeing it for a long time, fearing it would be another bland, miserable comedy in the vein of such execrable recent efforts as Hear My Song (1991), Antonia and Jane (1991) and Peter’s Friends (1992).

The script by Richard Curtis (Blackadder, The Tall Guy, 1989) is a finely crafted piece of work, combining perfectly British qualities of urbanity, naughtiness and wistful melancholy in a surprising and inventive way. But Curtis and director Mike Newell look elsewhere, too, for their inspiration.

The beautiful structural idea underpinning the entire piece – showing the development of the characters’ relations wholly through a succession of social ceremonies – brings a welcome touch of French master Max Ophüls (Le Plaisir, 1951, La Ronde, 1950).

Above all, Four Weddings is a triumphant marriage of British and American sensibilities – understated irony and pathos yoked to an ebullient energy and narrative drive. This, cleverly, becomes the central subject of the story: the reticence of Charles (Hugh Grant) contrasted with the more brash personal style of Carrie (Andie MacDowell). In this light, the comic highpoint of the film is surely the hilarious scene where Charles and Carrie compare the extent of their past “conquests”.

Without question the most delightful part of this film is Hugh Grant. This is the first movie to really seize upon his unique and utterly charming mixture of self-effacing modesty, brittle sarcasm, romantic winsomeness and Goonish nonsensicality.

Even as I tired of the spectacle of every last woman in the film telling Grant he is “so cute”, I couldn’t actually disagree with them.

MORE Newell: Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mona Lisa Smile

MORE Curtis/Working Title: Wimbledon, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

© Adrian Martin December 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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