Four Weddings and a Funeral (United Kingdom, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The simplest and most honest expression of praise that I can offer Mike Newell's latest movie is that it represents two hours of solid movie magic. Four Weddings and a Funeral possesses the rare ability to make an audience laugh (and laugh hard) and cry, without ever seeming manipulative or going hopelessly over-the-top.

Charles (Hugh Grant), now in his fourth decade of life, is a "serial monogamist" -- someone who moves from girlfriend to girlfriend without ever falling in love. His friends have started down the matrimonial road, but not Charles. Thoughts of spending the rest of his life with someone never enter his head, until one day at a wedding when he encounters Carrie (Andie MacDowell), an American fashion editor. And, although the two enjoy a brief tryst at an inn, Charles' typical British reticence kicks in, and Carrie is on her way back to America before he realizes he should have said something.

Four Weddings and a Funeral is about, well, four weddings and a funeral (actually, if you want to be picky, it's about three weddings, a funeral, and another wedding). While the central story of this charming motion picture is fairly common romantic comedy fare, it is framed by a plot filled with little twists and turns, lots of laughs, and a frothy, intoxicating atmosphere.

Mike Newell, whose recent directing credits include Enchanted April and Into the West, continues to show a deft hand when it comes to good, escapist fun. Newell's direction is understated -- he allows his actors and the script to carry the film, which results in a satisfying mix of lighthearted comedy with a dash or two of pathos (including an emotional reading of W.H. Auden).

Screenwriter Richard Curtis (who also penned The Tall Guy) is quick to let the humor start flowing, and once it starts, it never stops (although it slows during the more somber segments of the film's second half). The scenes most likely to cause uncontrollable laughter occur during the second wedding and center on Rowan Atkinson as a somewhat confused priest. It's no surprise that Atkinson feels at home with a Curtis script, since the two collaborated on the British TV show Blackadder.

Hugh Grant, currently stealing scenes in Sirens, is equally as good here, playing a likeable if somewhat twitty character. This is truly a case of perfect casting, as there's no scene, whether comic or serious, that Grant is incapable of carrying off. In the process, he evokes memories of a young David Niven. Andie MacDowell, playing opposite Grant, is somewhat less of a perfect choice, but she's adequate as the carefree American who connects with Charles. The supporting cast features a number of familiar British faces, including an exuberant Simon Callow (A Room with a View).

Four Weddings and a Funeral is a modern comedy with a very traditional theme. It blends good breeding and bad language; laughter and tears; and marriage and friendship into a thoroughly enjoyable whole. Mike Newell knows what his viewers want, but appreciates them enough not to give it in a predictable or obvious manner -- and that is the greatest pleasure of all in watching this movie.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (United Kingdom, 1994)

Ranked #8 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 1994
Run Time: 1:57
U.S. Release Date: 1994-03-11
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1