Oscar Vault Monday – Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994 (dir. Mike Newell)
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Four Weddings and a Funeral at least forty times. I used to have it on VHS tape and I would watch it A LOT as a child. Re-watching it for the first time in years recently, I realized just how much it affected me as a person. I love when I go back and look at the things I loved as a child and realize that even if I didn’t realize it, a film really impacted me. I’ll go into more details about how what I mean later in this piece. The film was only nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The only other film I can think of that was nominated for so few Oscar, but was in the running for Best Picture is the 1931 winner Grand Hotel, which was only nominated for Best Picture. Richard Curtis lost the Best Original Screenplay award to Tarantino for Pulp Fiction. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption and winner Forrest Gump. Despite its few Oscar nominations, it received nine BAFTA nominations, winning four, included Best Film: Best Original Screenplay (lost to Pulp Fiction), Best Music (lost to Breakbeat), Best Supporting Actor Simon Callow, John Hannah (lost to Samuel L. Jackson for Pulp Fiction), Best Supporting Actress Charlotte Coleman, Kristin Scott Thomas (she won), Best Actor Hugh Grant (won), Best Director (won) and Best Film (won).
I recently reviewed Mike Newell’s first film, The Awakening, a while ago. Newell has had a strange and diverse career and is one who is well worth exploring (I definitely recommend Enchanted April). Screenwriter Richard Curtis cut his teeth writing for British sitcoms like Black Adder and Mr. Bean before his first feature film, 1989’s The Tall Guy was released. I haven’t seen that one, but it stars Jeff Goldblum, so clearly I need to get on that. After the success of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Curtis has basically established himself as the king of British rom-coms, writing Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love, Actually (which he also directed), among others. He also most recently wrote War Horse.
Obviously, the film contains four weddings and a funeral, as the title suggests. I am going to spoil who that funeral is for, so if you haven’t seen the film, beware. The first wedding acts as the inciting incident for every subsequent weddings, as well as the journey of the main character. I’m not going to write about the first two couples that get married, though I will say the second couple are really quite amazing and their progression as the film plays out is wonderful.
We first meet Charles while he is sleeping in bed. He has over slept for the first wedding, for which he is the Best Man. The first line in the entire film is “fuck” – there will be more on this later. He scrambles. He forgets rings. He is a doofus. But amongst all this lateness and chaos, he sees a woman in a large, black hat and it’s that thunderbolt, love at first sight kind of thing. This is the woman he chases through the rest of the film. What I love about the concept from the beginning, is that it is this moody, serial monogamist man who is the morose about weddings and never being married. The cliché would be to have a woman in this situation (think 27 Dresses or something), but instead you have a man having the same angst that is most often attributed to women. Eventually, he even (almost) gets married just for the sake of getting married. I can’t tell you how refreshing this movie seems even twenty years later, now that we are stuck in a sea of women-pining-over-men wedding movies. Bumbling Hugh Grant is effortlessly charming, with that grin to end all grins. This is the film that really launched he career and made him, like Curtis, king of the rom-coms. I know a lot of people hate Grant’s schtick, but I have always been a fan and probably always will.
This film has some of the greatest profanity in a film of all time. When Tarantino does it, it almost always feels like he is doing it to be edgy. LOOK, MY CHARACTERS ARE CURSING. ED-GY. But, all the fucks that come out of the characters in this film feel so real and organic. They are panic fucks. They are grief fucks. They are exasperation fucks. And they are said with a British accent, so they just sounds so damn good.
Andie MacDowell is such a strange product of the 90s. She started her career in the 80s (her voice infamously had to be dubbed in her big screen debut in 1984’s Greystoke; The Legend of Tarzan because her southern accent was too pronounced for the British character she was playing). She is in so many rom-coms in the 1990s, it is bizarre. I love most of them (Michael, Groundhog Day), but she is just never very good. She is downright terrible as far as I am concerned in this film. Part of the problem is she plays basically the least interesting character in the film. She is billed as the co-lead, but her character is so borrrrrring. The rest of the ensemble dances circles around her (and at some points Grant, as well). But this last scene in the rain? It is the worst of things.
Speaking of the ensemble. Everyone in the core group of friends is so interesting and fun to watch. They are colorful and vibrant and you’re never bored watching them. One of the things I noticed during this recent re-watch, was how Newell had at least one of the core group of friends in the background at all times. No matter who the focus was in a certain scene, one or more of the other friends was used as an extra in the background. It’s little things like that, that make a film brilliant, but that you never really notice unless you are looking for it.
Kristin Scott Thomas doesn’t get much screen time, but her brooding, lovesick Fiona (darling Fi). Although she made her film debut nearly a decade earlier, this was her breakthrough film. She would later receive a Best Actress nomination at the 1996 Academy Awards for Best Picture winner The English Patient. She was also in another Best Picture nominated ensemble comedy, Robert Altman’s Gosford Park.
Probably my favorite character in the entire film is Charles’s flatmate Scarlett, played by Charlotte Coleman. She started out as a child actress in television in the 80s and worked steadily until her untimely death at the age of 33 in 2001 of an acute asthma attack. Scarlett is the only one in the group of friends with a cockney accent – this is never addressed, nor explained. Actually, much of the group’s dynamics are never explained, save for Tom being Fiona’s brother. Scarlett’s sense of style is clearly a holdover from the DYI culture of the 80s and I love everything about that. This is one of the things I realized really impacted me as a child. Her character and Iona (played by Annie Potts) in Pretty in Pink are basically two of my biggest style influences. Scarlett is just so much fun, from the beginning of the film, all the way to her very satisfying happy ending (more on that later).
Simon Callow’s Gareth is definitely the most exuberant character in the film. He is loud and he is crass and he is the life of the party. Although this is Charles’s story, Gareth seems to be the center of the group. He is the sun they all orbit. Callow clearly had a blast with this role, stealing every scene he’s in.
Which brings us to John Hannah as Matthew, who is the opposite. He is quiet and he is often reserved – although, when he does speak, he reveals a delightfully biting wit. The titular funeral occurs after the sudden death by heart attack of Gareth. This is when you discover (though it was slightly hinted at earlier), that Gareth and Matthew were a couple. What I noticed watching the film this time is that no one in the group knew they were a couple. They were so deeply in the closest, that even their closest friend apparently never realized they were an item. At the beginning of the funeral, he is referred to by the priest as “Gareth’s closest friend” – even then, they can’t just state it plainly. It pains me to realize that this was only twenty years ago, and two men in a clearly loving relationship felt they needed to hide their relationship for their dearest friends. Things have changed a bit now. but I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. This was also one of the things that I realized had a huge impact on me as a child. I think I was about eight when I saw this film for the first time and I think it was one of the earliest examples of a gay couple I had ever seen. It was presented so tenderly and with such respect, but also without spectacle. They were just two people who loved each other like anyone else.
I also really love James Fleet as Tom. He is even more bumbling than Charles, and far less charming – or, he has a different kind of charm. His speech after Gareth’s wedding about what he wanted out of marriage is one of the sweetest scenes I can think of. He’s a great character, adding just the right amount of uber-comic relief to a film filled with funny moments. Which brings me to the film’s humor, which I think has held up splendidly. I have seen this movie many, many times and I still laughed non-stop throughout the film. The jokes are not timely and they’re not gimmicky. It’s the kind of humor that is timeless and will play just as well in another twenty years yet.
I also love the progression of the relationship between Serena (Robin McCaffrey) and Charles’s brother David (David Bower). Serena sees him from afar at the first wedding and asks Matthew about him. She discovers her is deaf. When we get to the second wedding – which is just three months later – she has learned a little sign language and does her best to communicate with him. By the next wedding, they are clearly a couple and stay as such throughout the rest of the film. Another thing that is never really discussed is why David is deaf – and it doesn’t need to be. He’s just one of the group like everyone else. If only more films included characters that are “different” compared to the standard, run of the mill, “normal” person, in much the way life really is, the industry would finally be doing something right.
Rowan Atkinson has worked with Curtis from the beginning of his career, and he really gets to shine in this film, playing a priest in training who fucks up royally at the second wedding. It is such a funny, funny scene, that is just the right amount of painful.
Charles is a serial monogamist – who at the second wedding winds up in a table filled with his ex-girlfriends – and his most recent ex, Henrietta (Anna Chancellor), floats in and out of the second and third weddings. I’m not really sure what to make of her character because I think she is designed for you to not like, but it’s done in such a way that I feel almost manipulated into disliking her. She, like Andie MacDowell’s Carrie, feels terribly underdeveloped and clichéd. After populating the film was so many interesting characters, it’s a shame these two women are just so awfully written. Chancellor, however, does the best she can with what she’s given and her final line delivery after being left at the altar is priceless.
I just wanted to through this group shot in again because I love them so much.
I also love the end of the film, with all its characters getting happy endings. It’s clichéd and it’s probably not all the realistic, but after nearly two hours, you’ve come to really love (most) of these characters and you want them to have their happy endings, even if you know you might never get the same (you’ll probably be like Fiona, actually).
Posted on February 11, 2013, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged 1994, Andie MacDowell, Anna Chancellor, Charlotte Coleman, David Bower, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Hugh Grant, James Fleet, John Hannah, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mike Newell, Robin McCaffrey, Rowan Atkinson, Simon Callow. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.