Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Before I Die #549: Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

This is the 549th film of the 1,160 films on the "Before You Die" list that I'm gradually working my way through.

Director: Mike Newell

 This one has not held up at all well. If you saw this movie back in the 1990s and fell in love with it, as many did, then you probably still love it. If, like me, you never saw it, then I suggest that you not even bother.

From the title, you can imagine the general settings of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Traipsing about all of these services is a gaggle of friends, most in their late twenties or early thirties. The protagonist is Charles (Hugh Grant), a handsome fellow who has been somewhat unlucky in love, though occasionally by his own fumbling and immaturity. At the first wedding we witness, where Charles is the best man, he falls for Carrie, a beautiful American with a reputation for being "easy" with men. Charles does, indeed, sleep with Carrie. This sets up an on-again/off-again affair over the course of the next several months and titular weddings and funeral.

My introduction surely makes it clear that I did not care for this movie. However, I was quite glad to have watched it with my wife, who was one of this film's many original fans. Even she, after this recent viewing, had to admit that the movie has some obvious weaknesses. All the same, she confirmed my suspicions about the monumental impact it had on dozens of romantic comedies that followed in its wake. It is a classic case of something becoming so influential and imitated, that it almost becomes a parody of itself, through no fault of its own. There are almost too many aped elements to count: the charming but insecure lead man, played in definitive form by a nascent and ever-stuttering Hugh Grant and his magic eyebrows; the group of quirky friends from various walks of life; the one or two moments of touching gravity (the funeral, in this case); the gregarious gay friend who makes inappropriate comments. It goes on. This movie is to romantic comedies what Alien is to science-fiction horror.

All of that being recognized, the movie had lost much of its luster. Admittedly, I am not a tremendous fan of rom coms. However, there are certain ones which I have found entertaining enough: When Harry Met Sally; Love, Actually; Bridesmaids. Though the overt sentimentality does nothing for me, the humor and tone are consistent enough that I enjoyed these movies. With Four Weddings and a Funeral, the jokes were, quite frankly, flat. I recall chuckling a few times, and perhaps my mouth broke into a wry grin a handful of times as well. Maybe my tepid response is because gags and ideas that were fresh in 1994 have lost their punch from over-emulation. Either way, I simply didn't find it all that funny.

I found only one of this troop genuinely likable. The others
inspired less admirable emotions. 
The bigger problems are things that, no matter when you were looking at them, simply exhibit bad execution. The character Carrie is horrible. Whether from poor writing, poor acting, or both, she comes off as an enigmatic sex android which occasionally shows some imperfect facsimile of human emotion. It's impossible to see exactly what Charles finds so entrancing about her. Aside from Carrie, other characters make some pretty horrendous decisions. The one which comes to mind is when the boisterous Gareth passes away at one of the weddings, Charles makes the baffling decision to march right up to Gareth's life partner, Matthew, and inform him of his partner's death right in the middle of the wedding toast. Both my wife and I went cross-eyed at that, asking "What the hell are you doing, man?! Take the poor bastard to a side room, for Chrissakes!!" There are other examples of such choppy writing and editing, all of which amount to a weaker film.

An interesting aside which my wife and I agreed on: the scene at Gareth's funeral when Matthew reads the W.H. Auden poem "Funeral Blues" is by far the greatest moment in the movie. It has a sincerity and depth that is timeless. My wife put it best when she said that it felt as if the far more interesting story was Gareth and Matthew's. All of the other stuff should have been pushed to the periphery, and a better movie could have been the result.

My guess is that, when it was released, the weaknesses of the film were made less obvious by the innovations the movie made to the genre. Now that those innovations have become the norm, though, the blemishes are far more glaring. Hugh Grant and his Charlie character aren't as charming anymore. Nearly every rom com since has featured a group of friends who seem to be in a sort of arms race of "quirk" with every rom com that came before it. The tragic moment which is meant to add poignancy feels more forced these days.

Like many seminal movies, Four Weddings will probably always be endearing to those who enjoyed it back in the 1990's. It is not likely, however, to win over anyone unfamiliar or uninterested in the romantic comedy genre.

That's 549 films down. Only 611 to go before I can die...