(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day. These films could be nominees or they could be winners. They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee! We’ll see how things play out. Today, I take a look at the 1994 best picture nominee, Four Weddings and a Funeral!)
Four Weddings and a Funeral is truly an oddity. It’s a romantic comedy that works wonderfully well, despite the fact that there’s next to no chemistry between the two leads.
Hugh Grant plays Charles, a neurotic bachelor who lives in London and who, despite having been in several relationships, has yet to marry. As he’s explains it, he’s spent his life expecting love to hit him like a thunderbolt and it hasn’t happened yet. Andie MacDowell plays Carrie, an American who has one of those vaguely defined magazine jobs that are so popular in romantic comedies. Carrie and Charles meet over the course of … well, four weddings and a funeral. From the minute they first meet, they are attracted to one another but the path of true love is never an easy one. After spending the night with him, Carrie leaves for America. When Charles meet her for a second time, she’s now engaged to Sir Hamish Banks (Corin Redgrave), a rather boring politician.
Hugh Grant is perfectly cast as Charles. It can be easy to make fun of an actor like Grant, what with all the stammering and the carefully calculated charm. But it works perfectly in Four Weddings and a Funeral, in which Grant manages to believable as both a hopeless romantic and a committed cynic. Within moments of his first scene (in which Charles wakes up and realizes he’s late for a friend’s wedding), you forget that you’re watching Hugh Grant. He is Charles.
On the other hand, Andie MacDowell never convinces us that she’s Carrie. That’s not totally MacDowell’s fault, of course. Carrie is an underwritten character, one who serves more as a plot device than anything else. We’re never quite sure how she feels about Charles. For that matter, we never understand why she’s marrying Hamish. When she shows up at the film’s funeral, we’re left wondering if she’s really mourning or if she’s just showing up to be polite. Carrie never comes to life and MacDowell never feels comfortable in the role. When she gives a warmly received speech at her own wedding reception, the scene feels false because you never feel as if the words are coming from Carrie.
The film ends with Charles and Carrie finally getting together. Charles both swears his love for her and asks if she’ll agree to never marry him. We later see them in a snapshot, with a child. But, despite all of that, you never believe that Charles and Carrie are going to stay together. There’s just not enough chemistry between Grant and MacDowell to convince you that Carrie isn’t going to get bored and run off with whoever it is she meets at the next wedding she attends.
So, why does this film work so well? It works because it’s a love story. However, it’s not about the love between Charles and Carrie. Not really. Instead, it’s about the love between Charles and his friends. Because of the way the film is structured, we only get to see how these people behave at weddings and a funeral. We never really get to see what these people do for a living or what they’re like during the week. In fact, we don’t even find out how they all became friends in the first place.
But it doesn’t matter. The friendships feels real. The friendships feels authentic. You might not know how they all became friends but that doesn’t matter. By the end of the movie, you feel as if you could go to London and possibly run into any of these people going about their daily lives. They become real in a way that Carrie never does.
There’s Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman), who is Charles’s roommate and who gets flirty when she has too much to drink.
And then there’s David (David Bower), who is Charles’s younger brother. Both the actor and the character are deaf. One of the sweetest scenes in the film is when a woman who has been crushing on David attempts to show off her sign language skills. Everything she signs is wrong but David’s sweet smile tells us all we need to know about how he feels towards her.
Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Tom (James Fleet) are siblings. Fiona, who dresses in black, presents a hard exterior but, in one of the film’s more poignant scenes, she admits that the reason she’s never gotten married is because she’s been in love with Charles for ten years. Tom is a goofy optimist, the type who never doubts that he’s going to find happiness no matter what.
Gareth (Simon Callow) and Matthew (John Hannah) are as close to being married as anyone within Charles’s clique of friends. (Four Weddings and a Funeral was released twenty years before the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK. If someone views the film 50 years from now, they’ll probably wonder why, exactly, Matthew is always described, by those outside of his central group of friends, as merely being a “close friend” of Garth’s.) Sadly, the funeral of the title is for the fun-loving Gareth.
It’s during the funeral, when Matthew reads a poem from Auden, that it becomes apparent that the heart of this film belongs not to Charles and Carrie but to their friends. Ultimately, Four Weddings and a Funeral is a celebration of the bonds of friendship. At the end of the movie, you’re happy, not because Charles and Carrie are finally together but because this unique and wonderful group of friends have all found each other. Everyone should be so lucky.
Four Weddings and a Funeral was nominated for best picture but lost to Forrest Gump.