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Blu-ray Review: Four Weddings and Funeral

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Director Mike Newell’s (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral is classic British romantic comedy, paving the way for a whole series of British rom-coms that have enjoyed popularity in the U.S. Written by Richard Curtis (Blackadder) and starring Hugh Grant as Charles, who went on to star in several of Richard Curtis’ films, including Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones Diary (2001) and  Love Actually (2003).

Four Weddings also was the film that secured Grant’s status as the go-to guy for playing awkward, slightly bumbling, yet completely endearing romantic types. Andie MacDowell co-stars as Carrie, Grant’s love interest, the only American in the British cast, which includes Simon Callow (Gareth), Kristen Scott Thomas (Fiona), and John Hannah (Matthew).

Now available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Video, Four Weddings follows Grant’s character Charles through 18 months of his life as a single 30-something as he attends a series of weddings along with his close circle of friends. Each wedding has its own set of disasters and amusements, from the service through the reception, during which we learn more about Charles and company both in their own actions and their often-droll and ironic commentary about the events surrounding them.

But weddings often seem to have a romantic effect even upon the most confirmed single person, and one by one, Charles’ friends succumb to the idea of marriage.

At wedding #1, Charles meets American Carrie (MacDowell), with whom he becomes quite smitten, falling into bed with her as they are swept up in the romantic environment. But she’s soon off, back to the U.S., and by the time he sees her again back in the U.K—and at the next wedding—she’s engaged to a very wealthy Scotsman much her senior. Their relationship plays through the next events, until Charles comes to an important decision at his own wedding ceremony.

It’s a neat story structure—following the lives of this close group of friends only as they attend a series of weddings, including their own—and of course the funeral (which is, itself, connected to one of the weddings). There is nothing really profound here, but an awful lot of fun. But the film also works as a character study on the urge to mate for life, whether for love or out of duty—or out of a need to fill a void. Getting married is what happens, quips one of the Charles’ comrades, when you run out of conversation.

The performances are all first rate. A comic turn in a small, but significant part, by Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder, Mr. Bean) as a bumbling neophyte priest is priceless, particularly as he performs one of the ceremonies, conferring his blessing in the name of the “Father, the Son, and Holy spigot…sprit.” It is one of the funniest bits in the entire film.

Pre-English Patient Kristen Scott Thomas is perfect, playing to type as an upper-crust ice queen, and Simon Callow (Phantom of the Opera) is wonderful as Scotsman Gareth. John Hannah’s David provides one of the film’s few moments of real poignancy reciting W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” during the funeral scene referred to in the movie’s title.

But this is Hugh Grant’s film (he won the Golden Globe for best lead actor in a musical or comedy). And here he refines his signature film persona, progenitor to his Edward Ferrars in 1996’s Sense and Sensibility, and beyond.

Four Weddings and a Funeral is a character study, relying more on dialogue and reaction than on action and effect. So, the presentation in Blu-ray is, although an improvement over the standard definition rendering of the film, doesn’t really make a huge impact. The muted-color, soft-focus movie doesn’t really test the technology, and although it looks and sounds great, there is nothing that really stands out as an “Oh wow!” moment.

Presented in 1080p, with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the transfer to Blu-ray doesn’t really pop out which in the way one usually associates with a high-definition release.  This is not necessarily a criticism, and certainly not a shortcoming for the release, as the movie is less about effect and more about the character interactions and growth as seen over the 18-month course of the story line. The same may be said of the DTS-HD 5.1 surround audio. The sound is crisp and perfect, but again, does not need to make use of the power of the audio technology.

The release is accompanied by a few extras, including a commentary track with director Newell and Writer Curtis, as well as a featurette on the making of the movie—and a reel of deleted scenes. Nothing spectacular, but all of interest to fans of the movie or its actors and creative team.

Four Weddings and a Funeral is still as delightful as it was when released in 1994, and this Blu-ray release is a great way to see the movie for the first time—or to enjoy it again.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    As implausible as its plot is, I actually preferred Richard Curtis’s follow-up Notting Hill, which most people thought wasn’t as good.

    What spoils Four Weddings for me is the presence of Andie McDowell. She’s diabolically awful, conveying virtually nothing about the character and a great deal to suggest that she, the actor, didn’t really want to be there. The fact that the other cast members, without exception, give such sublime performances just highlights how bad hers is.

    In contrast, Julia Roberts does her job impeccably as the female lead in Notting Hill: she carries the film. She’s as charming and confident in it as McDowell is wooden and out of her depth in the earlier movie.