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Film Review: Four Weddings and a Funeral

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994; Directed by Mike Newell)

Romantic comedies are bizarre and often silly things. They purport to poke fun at Western society’s convoluted tenets of sex, courtship and commitment, and yet almost invariably wind up confirming heteronormativity and bathing idealized “true love” cliches in angelic light. The pretty ciphers at their centre are invariably duller and less engaging than the eccentric comic archetypes whirling around them. And the “laughs” are usually few and far between, lumped together around either awkward situations or goofy pratfalls, depending on the film’s country of origin (the British seem to prefer the former, Americans the latter). And modern rom-coms with these elements properly in place are the unquestioned classics of the genre. The less said about the flicks that are not even that chic(k), the better.

What this ensemble needs is a fascinator or two, no?

And so… Four Weddings and a Funeral. Adorably bumbling Englishman (we know he’s adorable, bumbling and English because we’re constantly reminded of it, often via direct dialogue) falls inexplicably for pretty, brash, promiscuous, borderline-cruel American woman (besides her evident cruelty, all of these are likewise alluded to in detail) and they circle contrivedly around each other through the titular narrative structure of social gatherings. The gang of eccentrics that surround them (all of them amusing and some of them quite excellently characterized by fine actors) make for some colour and eventually pair off in equally heteronormative ways.

National stereotypes are rigidly observed: the English are awkward, nervous, neutered twits, Americans are glowingly amoral, Scots are lively, rude, and ever and always the life of any party. Eventually, our leads stop circling endlessly and pounce, pledging quasi-matrimonial commitment to each other (which is apparently progressive because it isn’t matrimony, even if it really kind of is) with rain-drenched, hackneyed expressions of devotion to each other. Just… because.

The overall stew is difficult to swallow, although Hugh Grant’s odd pent-up self-frustrated cursing is amusing and Rowan Atkinson’s cameo as a mealy-mouthed officiating priest is kind of a stealth classic of a scene (“The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spigot…”). But beyond that, what is the animating principle that binds Charles and Carrie together, in the end? Is there one, besides the plot? Is love just… love? It never really become clear, for me. And so the rom-com carousel grinds ever on, its gears scraping away, blissfully oblivious of their constant need for grease.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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