14 September 2015

Four Weddings and a Funeral (starring Hugh Grant)

We saw this film at the cinema, back in the early 1990s when it was first made. We thought it very well done, but shocking in places, thought-provoking in others. I remembered it as amusing but bitter-sweet. And when we first started collecting DVDs, around twelve years ago, I saw that ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ was considered a classic; it was on special offer, so we bought it.

My husband and our teenage sons watched it, but I don’t think I saw it at the time. Perhaps I felt uncomfortable with teenagers around, although both were over 15. In any case, it’s been sitting on our shelves for many years, until I decided it would be good to see it again on Sunday afternoon. We sat down with our 20-something son, who also hadn’t seen it for some years.

The style is immediately dated, but suggests a light-hearted story; I’d forgotten that after setting the scene rather cleverly, seeing people arriving for a society wedding, the first speech is a series of expletives: what would be listed as ‘strong’ language, uttered because the hero, Charles (Hugh Grant, looking remarkably young) oversleeps on a morning when he’s supposed to be Best Man. He and his sister Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) make it to the wedding just in time, but then he realises he’s forgotten the rings….

Charles and Scarlett, we quickly discover, are close friends with a diverse group of people, all of whom are single. They regularly attend weddings but are more inclined to casual relationships than commitment. Charles, in particular, seems commitment-phobic, although he’s very attracted to Carrie (Andie McDowell) whom he meets at the wedding.

The story really does encompass little more than four weddings and a funeral, not quite in that order. The second wedding is an unexpected result of the first one and follows a similar pattern…. except that Carrie has some news that shocks Charles to the core.

It’s a relationship-based story, a series of sub-plots and interactions rather than a single plot, with Charles as the main character, everything seen from his perspective. Hugh Grant manages this part to perfection, in an almost Bertie Wooster style of an upper-middle class well-meaning but often bumbling Englishman. It’s the role which put him in the public eye, and which probably spawned many of his later and better-known roles.

Other characters are rather more stereotyped, particularly the participants in the second wedding; that didn’t matter too much, and the caricatured roles of some of Charles’ friends helped me to keep them separate in my mind. We particularly enjoyed the lively and highly eccentric Gareth (Simon Callow), and the cameo role for Rowan Atkinson as a new and very nervous priest.

The one slight disappointment in the casting is Carrie herself, supposedly the romantic lead, but with little to recommend her other than her looks. She doesn’t feel quite real; she’s hardly a role model (she admits to being highly promiscuous, not to mention materialistic). Yet she’s not a humorous exaggerated American, but the female romantic lead. The chemistry - and growing friendship - really doesn’t work.

There’s a great deal of humour in the film, most of it understated but cleverly done. The comic timing is perfect, and we found ourselves chuckling more than once. It makes the shocking parts stand out all the more; and the recital of a poem at the one funeral is extremely moving. I recall finding that (or what it implied) rather shocking when I first saw the film over 20 years ago; it was a theme that wasn’t explored nearly so often as it is today. It made an excellent point about love - real love - transcending all boundaries and cultural expectations.

The 15 rating is still appropriate; the ‘strong’ language is there for effect, and it might well be down-rated to a 12 by today’s standards if that were all. But there are several rather overt scenes of intimacy; no nudity as such, but several scenes that lead little to the imagination. It’s rated R in the United States.

Overall, we enjoyed it very much and I would recommend it in general to older teens and adults. But if you’re offended by strong language or overt sexuality, this is probably one to avoid.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

03 September 2015

Midnight in Paris (starring Owen Wilson)

I had never heard of this film, and it’s not one that would naturally have been recommended to me; however I happened to read a review of it on a consumer site, and my interest was piqued. It went on my wish-list and I was delighted to be given it for a recent birthday. We decided to watch it last night purely because it was the shortest of the ones remaining in our to-be-watched drawer!

‘Midnight in Paris’ starts with some very nice scenery and some rather too loud jazzy music. I quite like jazz in its place, and when I thought this was going to be the background to opening titles, I didn’t mind it at all. But no titles appeared, and the music became louder as the images of Paris continued for much longer than we’d have expected as an opening sequence. We had to turn the sound down at one point as the high notes were almost screechingly loud.

Then the story starts. We meet an American family who are visiting Paris. The parents - caricatured materialistic types - are there for business; their daughter Inez (Rachel McAdams) decided to tag along, as did her fiancĂ© Gil (Owen Wilson). Right from the start they seem like an ill-matched pair; he’s evidently a romantic, who loves the nostalgic feel of Paris, and the beauty of the buildings. He wonders if they could live there after they’re married; but Inez doesn’t want to live anywhere other than the United States.

Gil is a successful Hollywood scriptwriter, and Inez appears to care more for his success and wealth than for him as a person. She’s rather scathing about his current project of writing a novel, although he’s easy-going and seems to brush off her negativity. Still, when she decides to go dancing with some old friends, he says he’d rather go for a walk, as Paris is so romantic at night. He manages to get himself lost, and sits down for a rest just before the clock strikes midnight…

...at which point an old-fashioned car arrives and he’s persuaded to get inside. The situation gradually becomes surreal, as he finds himself amongst people whose novels he has admired… apparently he’s gone back in time to the 1920s, an era he believes reflects the glories of literature. I thought this was supposed to be a dream sequence at first, but he repeats the experience the following day, meeting famous artists as well as writers, and a very attractive girl…

I had to accept that, essentially, it’s a surreal plot, which includes time travel but without any worries about the potential problems. Whether or not these forays into the past were a dream, or a subconscious wish, or reality (so to speak) is left open. But the contrast is made between Gil’s romantic nature and Inez’s materialistic side; as he becomes more inspired to write, given advice by people who care, and begins to fall for the girl in the 1920s, his relationship with Inez deteriorates rapidly. And thank goodness for that - right from the start I was hoping they would break up.

There’s an underlying message or theme to the film: being contented with one’s own era, taking life as it comes, going with one’s heart. There’s some humour, nicely mixed in with the story; once or twice we even chuckled aloud. The scenery and filming are gorgeous, the costumes stunning, and despite the oddness of the storyline, I was left feeling both nostalgic and uplifted.

Rated 12; basically due to several sexual references, although there’s nothing explicit, no violence, and no nudity. Mild language. Unlikely to be of interest to anyone under the age of about fifteen or sixteen anyway; it’s necessary to know the names of at least some of the best-known artists and writers from the 1920s in order to get the point of the forays into the past.

Recommended, if you like character-driven stories that are light, slow moving and somewhat thought-provoking. It's only 90 minutes long, but quite intense; the length felt exactly right.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews