Oscar Movie Month: "Four Weddings and a Funeral" Review


Oscar Movie Month: "Four Weddings and a Funeral" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes
Release Date: March 9, 1994
Directed by: Mike Newell
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Romance

Romantic comedies have come a long way over the years. Certain films continue to stand out over time, however, and provide a great look into the genre in decades past. "Four Weddings and a Funeral" explores many issues that were hot topics in its time. It does so with a feeling of gentleness and whimsy that makes it a perfect example of movies during the mid-'90s. The movie is likely to find fans amongst those who enjoy both romance and comedy, though the dramatic elements don't become immediately visible until the film's climax.

"Four Weddings and a Funeral" revolves around the love life of Charles (Hugh Grant) who is a popular choice for best man and regularly attends weddings. He meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at the first wedding we see and confirms his feelings for her by the end of the second. The third wedding scheduled is for Carrie and her fiancé, Hamish (Corin Redgrave). Along the way, viewers are introduced to sympathetic characters like Gareth (Simon Callow) and Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) whose love lives and personal backstories develop in bits and pieces at each event. The drama picks up as the movie begins to make viewers aware of the love triangle that is forming between Charles, Carrie, and Fiona.

The acting in the film is one of the many elements that help it stand the test of time. Grant is, and likely always will be, a consummate ladies' man. His portrayal of Charles as a successful Englishman with little power over his life due to strong women and stronger drink is likely to resonate with audiences of almost any age. MacDowell brings a feminine touch to the piece, though her forceful pursuit of Charles up until her own wedding may seem a bit over the top at times. Redgrave brings a touch of dry British wit. His performance is likely to stand out in the minds of those more interested in the comedy and less the romance of the film. Callow and Scott Thomas steal the show, however. Viewers are likely to focus as much on enjoying time with Callow or wishing Scott Thomas the best as they are the romantic elements of the piece due to the brilliant portrayal by the pair.

The cinematography in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" is fairly standard fare. The camera angles and lighting choices are likely to remind viewers of films such as "My Fair Lady" and other early romantic comedies. Similarly, the transitions often take their cue from stage dramas and one- or two-man plays. This may seem like an odd choice in such busy environments as weddings but it works well at bringing the focus onto the characters that are immediately involved in the action.

The script relies heavily on British witticism and dry humor, which may not translate well for all viewers. Dialogue and sight gags provide much of the comedy in the piece. Witticisms fly and sometimes crash their way through the many conversations that make up the bulk of the movie. The entire story is told through appearances at the weddings, with precious-little time given to the background or lives of the characters beyond what is happening in the immediate moment. This works very well for "Four Weddings and a Funeral."

Likely one of the reasons that the use of dialogue and immediacy works so well in the film is the brilliant direction of Mike Newell. Newell brings out the best in his cast, letting each one add personal style and sense of character to individual portrayals. His choices with lighting and cinematography may seem standard fare, but he manages to polish stock camera angles and close-ups to make them shine at key moments. This creates a film that does exactly what it sets out to do, even if it does use mundane tools common in the last few decades of cinema.

The combination of a hilarious script, great acting, and skilled direction helps elevate "Four Weddings and a Funeral" above other romantic comedies of that period. The humor and witticism may not be apparent to all viewers, but those with at least a passing interest in British comedy or the stunning looks and demeanor of Hugh Grant are likely to find the film a great addition to their collection. People looking for a more serious drama or hungering for the rawer, visceral, or dark comedies of the late '90s may find less of interest in the movie. It is a great choice for a night out with friends or just an evening at home.

Rating: 4 out of 5