Home Video Hovel: Four Weddings and a Funeral, by David Bax
To be honest, I could have pretty easily written a review of Four Weddings and a Funeral without re-watching it. As one of my favorite movies of all time, I’ve revisited it often enough that I could recite from memory many of the scenes, like Rowan Atkinson’s neophyte vicar presiding over the second funniest wedding ceremony in cinema history (after The Princess Bride, of course), topped off with a blessing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spigot. Or I could recount Tom’s (James Fleet) endearingly practical hopes for love, in which he’d “meet some nice, friendly girl, like the look of her, hope the look of me didn’t make her physically sick…” But, of course, I did watch it again, because that’s what you do with movies this good. And I’m glad I did because I found that, a quarter century on, Four Weddings doesn’t just “hold up” but seems, like only the best films do, to have changed along with me, getting better with age as I hope I have done.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is not just a clever title, though it is an intriguing one. It’s a literal description of the movie’s structure, if only slightly out of order (it goes wedding, wedding, wedding, funeral, wedding). With the exception of a sequence in which characters shop for wedding gifts, the entire movie unfolds within a 24 hour vicinity of one ceremony or other. This gives the story of Charles (Hugh Grant) and Carrie (Andie MacDowell) falling in love a kind of timeless, fantastical aura, unfolding as it does against the backdrop of lovely, old country estates rented for the day and full of cheerful folks in fancy duds. The only exception, of course, is the funeral. Though the church is charming, it’s in the middle of a drab suburb next to a factory and its obnubilated smokestacks.
There’s an ironic juxtaposition to director Mike Newell’s sepulchral location choice that’s formalistically akin to the movie’s entire outlook. Whereas the standard romantic comedy—even those in the superficially irreverent Apatow mode—abide by a traditional, conservative moral scheme in which sex, love and marriage follow an immutable and hallowed progression, screenwriter Richard Curtis is skeptical, even cynical, of such modes of thought from the very beginning; how many other rom-coms kick off with the male romantic lead sputtering the word “fuck” a dozen times? From there, Charles and Carrie’s early flirtations include a mockery of the word “honeymoon.” Then, in one of the film’s and the genre’s most powerful scenes, he falls in love with her while she describes her experiences with each of her numerous sexual partners, a moment that is almost shocking in the complete lack of the judgment or guilt we have come to expect when a movie presents us with a female character of so much sexual experience. With all of this in mind, when Charles dashes into the church at Carrie’s wedding just as the priest asks if anyone knows any reason that the bride and groom should not be wed, we ought to know that he’s not there like Ben in The Graduate to stop her from marrying the wrong man. He’s just late, as usual.
What I had never really considered, though, before this latest re-watch, is that most of these characters–Charles’ closest friends–are not particularly good people. I was probably too callow myself when I first saw the movie to take in their shallowness, self-centeredness and privilege. In a sense, these young, moneyed, unattached, attractive folks could just as easily exist in the universe of a Whit Stillman film. Yet Curtis and Newell ultimately have hearts too soft to deny them, or us, at least a bit of “true love” sentimentality. However, in yet another dodge of expectations, the most touching relationship in the movie is not that of Charles and Carrie but of Charles’ friends Matthew (John Hannah) and Gareth (Simon Callow), who may not wear wedding rings (same sex marriage wouldn’t be legal in the U.K. for another twenty years) but, as Charles eventually notices, have been “married all the time.” It’s an uncommon representation of a gay couple for a mainstream-aimed film at the time but, more importantly, it’s an admission on the part of the film and a realization on the part of Charles, despite his doubt and hesitation, that pure, corny love does exist. Of course, in true Four Weddings and a Funeral fashion, it takes one half of the couple dying to prove it.
Given the film’s popularity, it’s no surprise that the source elements seem to have been kept in good shape. Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray comes from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. Clarity and depth are beautifully translated, with the verdant countryside settings especially well-served by the transfer. Audio is available in stereo or 5.1 and both are problem-free.
That new transfer is the star of this 25th anniversary edition Blu-ray. The only new special feature is an interview with directory of photography Michael Coulter. The disc also carries over existing features, including a commentary with Newell, Curtis and producer Duncan Kenworthy as well as deleted scenes and three featurettes, including a making-of documentary.