Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Four Weddings and a Funeral (dir by Mike Newell)


(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!)

(SPOILERS)

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.

Playing Catch-Up: Love & Friendship (dir by Whit Stillman)


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Earlier this week, I named Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as the worst Jane Austen adaptation of 2016.  Of course, I understand that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t really a Jane Austen adaptation.  Instead, it’s an adaptation of a jokey novel that took Austen’s characters and combined them with zombies.  But you know what?  Nobody would have given a damn if the name of that book and that movie didn’t include three words:  Pride.  And.  Prejudice.  That’s the power of Jane Austen.

But anyway, my point is that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was pretty much a low point as far as Jane Austen films are concerned.  Fortunately, 2016 also saw the release of a very enjoyable and entertaining Jane Austen film named Love & Friendship and, even better, Love & Friendship was based on something that Austen actually wrote.

Of course, though Austen may have written the novella Lady Susan, it wasn’t published until long after her death and there’s speculation that it was an unfinished (or abandoned) first draft.  In fact, it’s debatable whether or not Lady Susan was something that Austen would have ever wanted to see published.  While it shares themes in common with Austen’s best known work, it also features a lead character who is far different from the stereotypical Austen heroine.  Lady Susan Vernon is vain, selfish, manipulative, and unapologetic about her numerous affairs.  She’s also one of the wittiest of Austen’s characters, a woman who is capable of identifying and seeing through the hypocrisies of 18th century society.

In Love & Friendship, Susan is played by Kate Beckinsale, who does a great job in the role.  One of the best things about Love & Friendship is that it serves to remind us that Kate Beckinsale is a very good actress, even when she isn’t dealing with vampires and Lycans and all that other Underworld stuff.  Lady Susan is a recent widow and has been staying, with her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), at the estate of Lord and Lady Manwaring (Jenn Murray and Lochlann O’Mearáin) .  That’s a good thing because, as a result of the death of her husband, Lady Susan is now virtually penniless and homeless.  But, once it becomes obvious that Susan is having an affair with Lord Manwaring, she and Frederica are kicked out of the estate.

They eventually find themselves living with Susan’s brother-in-law, Charles (Justin Edwards) and Charles’s wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell).  Susan, realizing that she needs to find not only a rich husband for Frederica but also one for herself, immediately starts to scheme to win the hand of Catherine’s brother, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel).  Meanwhile, Susan also tries to arrange for Frederica to marry the hilariously slow-witted Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett).  Needless to say, things do not go quite as plan and it’s all rather chaotic and hilarious in its wonderfully refined way.

Director Whit Stillman, who has spent his career making refined and witty movies about morality and manners, is the ideal director for Austen’s material and he’s helped by an extremely witty (and, with the exception of Chloe Sevigny, very British) cast.  In the role of Susan, Kate Beckinsale is a force of nature and Tom Bennett is hilariously dense as Sir James, the type of well-meaning dunce who is literally stumped when someone asks him, “How do you do?”  Never before has dullness been so hilariously performed and Bennett’s performance really is a minor miracle.

Love & Friendship was a wonderful excursion into Austenland.  It didn’t even require zombies to be enjoyable.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Sense and Sensibility (dir by Ang Lee)


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I just finished watching the 1995 best picture nominee Sense and Sensibility on TCM and, despite the fact that I’ve watched it several times in the past, I’m glad that I took time to rewatch it.  Sense and Sensibility is one of those very special films that you should rewatch every few months just to be reminded of how good it is.  There’s no CGI in Sense and Sensibility.  Instead, there’s just some very good writing, some excellent performances, and some lushly wonderful images of the English countryside, courtesy of director Ang Lee.  It’s a deliberately paced film, one that proves the virtue of a subtle touch.

The film tells the story of the Dashwoods.  As Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) dies, he tells his son by his first wife, John (James Fleet), to take care of his second wife (Gemma Jones) and their three daughters, Elinor (Emma Thompson), Marianne (Kate Winslet), and Margaret (Emilie Francois).  Naturally enough, John does the exact opposite and soon the Dashwood sisters are forced to leave their large estate and fend for themselves.

The film centers on the practical Elinor and the passionate Marianne.  Elinor meets and falls in love with Edward (a surprisingly restrained Hugh Grant), an aspiring clergyman who is also John’s brother-in-law.  Edward comes from a wealthy family but will be disinherited if he marries someone who has neither money nor social prominence.  Marianne, meanwhile, has fallen in love with John Willoughby (Greg Wise), who is handsome, dashing, rich, and a bit of a cad.  (Cad is such a cool word.  People should start using it more.)  Marianne is so in love with the unworthy Willoughby that she misses the fact that the kindly Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman) has also fallen in love with her.

Sense and Sensibility is based on a Jane Austen novel and, in its very British way, it’s a wonderfully romantic film.  Tonight, when viewed in the shadow of the recent passing of Alan Rickman, the scenes featuring Col. Brandon were even more poignant than usual.  His love for Marianne is perhaps the most pure and selfless love to be found in the entire film.  There’s a scene where Col. Brandon is speaking to Elinor and Marianne, inviting them to his estate.  Marianne ignores him until Brandon mentions that Willoughby is also inspected.  Suddenly, Marianne looks up and smiles and Alan Rickman allows just a hint of pain to enter his voice.  It’s a masterful performance.

But really, the reason why I love this film is because it’s about sisters. I am the youngest of four sisters and, whenever I see this film, it’s hard for me not to see the Bowman sisters in the Dashwood sisters.  There is so much about Marianne that I relate to, from her passionate pursuit of “true love” to her artistic sensibility to her somewhat dangerous habit of wandering around in the middle of thunderstorm.  You never doubt for a second that Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet could be related and this film always makes me appreciate my own sisters.

Sense and Sensibility was nominated for Best Picture of 1995 but it lost to a film that is its total opposite, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.