Four Weddings and a Funeral

(1994) *** R
118 min. Polygram Filmed Entertainment. Director: Mike Newell. Cast: Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Kristin Scott Thomas, Simon Callow, James Fleet, John Hannah, Rowan Atkinson.

/content/films/4233/1.jpgIt would, I expect, be difficult not to like Four Weddings and a Funeral, though I wouldn't blame someone for having an allergic reaction to overpraise of its humble charms. A breakthrough hit for the then-up-and-coming Hugh Grant—and a much-needed boost to the British film industry's international reach—Mike Newell's film scored a Best Picture Oscar nomination and made Working Title (led by producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner) and screenwriter Richard Curtis into go-to guys for romantic comedies (Notting Hill and Love Actually would follow, also to big box office).

The great charm of Four Weddings and a Funeral can be found in its depiction of a circle of friends, as seen in the social crucibles of the titular events. Over the course of two hours, we get a feel for the friends' group dynamic, and how it rolls with the punches and the shifting relationships and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Grant plays Charles, a satisfied single just turning the corner of questioning whether it's time to settle down: weddings have a way of doing that to people. But in the meantime, there's an attractive American interloper in Charles' sights, and he works his opportunity to pick her up during the film's first wedding scene. Her name is Carrie (Andie MacDowell), and she gives Charles romantic pause, particularly when she suggests that perhaps they should get married. More weddings follow, and more meetings between Charles and Carrie, whose availability—previously made difficult by the Atlantic Ocean—has been all but eliminated by a rich and powerful fiancé (Corin Redgrave).

Those playing the friends (and former lovers) to Charles make a winning ensemble, including Charles' like-minded flatmate Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman), odd couple Bernard and Lydia (David Haig of the BBC's The Thin Blue Line and Sophie Thompson), Charles admirers Henrietta (Anna Chancellor) and Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas), and gay couple Gareth and Matthew (Simon Callow and John Hannah). Curtis positions Callow's gregarious Gareth as the soul of the picture, a life force constantly goading his friends to live properly. Rowan Atkinson (with whom Curtis collaborated on Blackadder and Mr. Bean) serves as overt comic relief in the role of Gerald, a priest in training who recurs as the tongue-tied presider of later ceremonies ("In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spigot. Spirit!").

The film's high-concept (and brilliantly simple) narrative structure works like gangbusters as an alternative to the usual modern rom-com formula, and Curtis writes plenty of zippy dialogue, like this quintessential Hugh Grant exchange:

Carrie: Our timing has been very bad.
Charles: Yes it has been. Very bad.
Carrie: It's been a disaster.
Charles: It has been, as you say, very bad indeed.

Of course, Curtis and Newell have a shoe they're ready to drop, by offing one of the characters and reminding the survivors that time's a-wasting, and life is to be lived. The dramatic interlude lends the otherwise airy film a bit of grounding gravitas and sincerity (lest it float away), raising the stakes of the central romance unfolding between Grant and MacDowell). Not everything works out neatly for everyone, but life seems a little better by the end of two hours' struggle, for the characters and for the audience.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 1/11/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

MGM gives Four Weddings and a Funeral its Blu-ray debut, and the film has never looked better. One shouldn't expect a crisp, bright image, but rather one that represents the film as it appeared on theater screens in 1994: a look that's a bit soft and overcast, with natural film grain. There's really nothing to complain about here, aside from violent telecine wobble in the opening credits (forgiveable since it recedes thereafter): color and contrast are accurate, and detail has improved significantly over standard-def DVD. Sound comes in an adequate lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that, while not terribly impressive in its separation, can be considered nonetheless definitive for this vintage title.

A solid complement of bonus features (retained from DVD) includes a feature commentary by Director Mike Newell, producer Duncan Kenworthy and writer/co-producer Richard Curtis that's well worth a listen for fans of the film or the filmmakers.

"Four Weddings and a Funeral In the Making" (7:45, SD) is strictly standard-issue promotional stuff, with a bit of set footage and canned interviews, while "The Wedding Planners" (29:48, SD) gives a superior look at the film's conception and making with meatier interviews.

"Two Actors and a Director" (5:41, SD) amusingly but swiftly looks at Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, and their director Newell.

Also included are "Deleted Scenes" (4:02, SD) with optional commentary by Kenworthy, promotional spots and the film's trailer.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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