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

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