Take 2: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Updated: Jan 6
The first time I saw Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell, 1994) I was underwhelmed. I am strongly in the camp that argues that Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003) is a masterpiece, and Hugh Grant is perhaps my favourite movie star of all time, and yet I felt Four Weddings simply didn’t compare to Curtis and Grant’s later work. Revisiting it has been a worthwhile experience, not only because I enjoyed the film far more this time round, but also because it has reminded me of the power of expectation in shaping how we watch movies. The Mark Kermode book chapter that I quoted from in the introduction to this blog gives excellent examples of this, but I think we can all recognise this phenomenon.[i] If a film has been inflated to a high status in your mind before you see it, you may be left disappointed even by a good movie. Similarly, if your expectations are low, a film can surpass them by being merely average. The former experience describes my original viewing of Four Weddings, and the latter my recent re-watch. This review (aptly named) will focus on what I took from Newell’s film second time around.
The first half of the film is just so good. We follow Charles (Grant) as he belatedly bumbles his way through weddings, encountering scorned ex-girlfriends, trying to impress Carrie (Andie MacDowell), and having polite fun with his collection of mates along the way. It is in this section of Four Weddings where all the best stuff happens, and it is the collection of friends that breathe life and character into the movie. Charles, Tom (James Fleet), Gareth (Simon Callow), Matthew (John Hannah), and Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas), along with an excellent array of satellite characters, are such a realistic, energetic bunch of friends who bounce off of each other with banter, drunken antics and the odd heartfelt conversation in a way that makes them irresistible – you can’t help but want to join them and ride along with their merriment. Just watching them is entertainment enough, though, and this first half is so funny, whether you are laughing at the little witticisms the friends throw at each other, or the hilarious set pieces, like the wedding with Rowan Atkinson’s clueless vicar. None of it would work as well without the truly brilliant cast: Grant is as perfect as you’d expect, both cringingly awkward and thrillingly witty, but the supporting cast are just superb too, with all of the four actors playing his closest friends having gone on to having satisfying careers in their own right.
Unfortunately, the film begins to peter out somewhere around the third wedding. It is here that Newell and Curtis, determined to make more than a lightweight piece of fluff, begin juggling seriousness alongside the humour, and it all becomes slightly hit and miss. There are still wonderful moments – the titular funeral is one of the film’s most famous scenes, a few minutes of cinema where Newell and Curtis get the balance right, and I, just like the diegetic funeral congregation, let out a few sombre giggles to help contain my barely suppressed tears.[ii] But the overall effect of the film’s second half is a regression from the excellence of the first. Perhaps the biggest problem here is MacDowell’s Carrie. Neither character nor actor seem to fit the film, her presence often a disrupter of the friendship and fun that the film is built on. The will-they-won’t-they (they obviously will) narrative is far less compelling than the personalities of the friendship group, and the way Charles seems to get so distracted by her is to the detriment of both the character and the film itself. This, infamously, culminates in the final “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed” scene, which is utterly dire. Uninteresting, poorly written, poorly acted and accompanied by a cheesy, inappropriate score, it really is a bad, bad finish to an otherwise well-executed movie. The final shot tilts up from the kiss to reveal lightning striking in the cloudy sky, and that’s it, a weak meteorological metaphor is the very last thing you see, until the uplifting ‘what happened next’-style credits return some joy and dignity to the movie.
Such a bad ending can really signal doom upon reflection, and this may account for my bad impression of Four Weddings first time around. This time I will endeavour to remember the excellent first half instead of the increasingly scattershot finale.
At time of writing, Four Weddings and a Funeral is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
[i] The chapter in question is “What is a critic for?” in Kermode’s The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex. [ii] I still can’t help but feel that even this scene compares unfavourably to its equivalent in Love Actually, however, Liam Neeson’s goodbye to his wife bringing forth an outpouring of joy and sadness for a character we never even get to know.