Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Four_weddings_poster.jpgI’ve been of the certain age where it seems like every friend you have is getting married in the next year. It’s an exhilarating time albeit expensive and a bit taxing (if you’re even able to go to all of them). But most of us wouldn’t trade the joy of being a part of these experiences for anything.

Weddings in themselves have always been a marvelous enigma to me. Because the days before and after are full of preparation, stress, and a barrage of feelings. But the actual arrival of the ceremony is almost surreal. It’s a moment captured in the hinterlands where you’re suspended in this euphoric high that can either be magical or come crashing down thanks to some inexplicable faux pas. Emotions are heightened. Love and romance are on everyone’s minds.

That’s what makes the narrative conceit of Four Weddings and a Funeral such a smashing idea because we know already what weddings do to people and that makes the prospect interesting. Imagine you only really ever meet someone at these regal affairs. She has a fashionable hat. You’re dressed to the nines. Mutual friends are being wed. The bubbly is flowing. She’s an American. You’re British. Well, anyway that’s the preliminary outline of this story.

Charles (Hugh Grant) is perpetually running late to big day after big day. But each one is special and each one of them puts him face-to-face with a gorgeously remarkable woman named Carrie (Andie MacDowell).

First, they connect in the aftermath of a mutual friend’s wedding, getting to know each other rather well at their hotel. Then the next time they meet his heart goes flutter once more only for her to introduce a fiancee at least 30 years her senior. Charles is devastated. Still, only a little while later, they spend the night together again.

Wedding three belongs to Carrie and you can already feel the dissonance going on as she slept with Charles but is willfully marrying another man. However, they both take it in stride as do their many friends. Until one of the more boisterous members of their crowd, Gareth, dies from a heart attack.

So in the final stretch, we have Charles looking to tie the knot with one of the various girlfriends we’ve met at the subsequent gatherings, Henrietta. That is until the news hits about Carrie’s marital status when they cross paths quite by chance. She’s no longer married. The Pandora’s box of doubt has been busted open right on the eve of his wedding day and he’s stricken by indecision as he teeters on the edge of this monumental event.

What Alan Curtis’s script captures exquisitely is the vast network of people and relationships that link and interconnect over the years when you share a friend group and it slowly begins to grow and expand with the passing years. It provides the perfect cultivation ground for myriad characters, budding couples, best friends, priests, parents, and the crotchety elderly. All mainstays of the wedding circuit.

However, the final conclusion arrived at in this romantic comedy feels, in one sense, outmoded and by other estimations, rather selfish and unrealistic. Maybe they are one in the same.

The lovely, whimsical idea of finding “the one” remains intact to the very end but at what cost? Surely it doesn’t matter that another woman has been left at the altar and a whole wedding has been canceled because of what we might pragmatically term one man’s indiscretion or closer yet, his selfishness.

That ethereal feeling of the quintessential movie romance is unfortunately sullied. Perhaps I’m perceiving too much of reality and not enough of the lens of fairytale magic that might be afforded such a narrative, but I cannot help it.

Like I already mentioned, I’ve been in those moments where people you know and love were getting married. I’ve seen the affection in their eyes and on their faces. There was not an ounce of visible apprehension there. Everyone in the room, the chapel, or the banquet hall, knew it full well. These were people who were in it for the long haul. This was not a flippant decision, a momentary fling, or a mere consolation prize.

This was the joining of two people through thick and through thin. Maybe it is soppy but to me, it proves far more fulfilling than its alternative. In my naivete, I’d like to believe that there are still people out there who are committed to marriage and they’ll willingly dig in together for better or for worse. My assertions might fly in the face of this film but I’m okay with that.

Four Weddings and a Funeral has its moments of delight, however, in the end, it cannot do complete justice to the utter jubilation when you’re with your friends or family celebrating the union of two people you dearly love. Perhaps that’s as it should be. Each wedding is personal and unique all to its own.

3.5/5 Stars

Notting Hill (1999)

NottingHillRobertsGrantThere is a scene in the film where a group of friends is sitting around the dinner table in the Notting Hill district of London, and they are having a friendly after dinner competition to decide whose life is the most hopeless. The winner gets the last delectable piece of fudge. One person sitting at the table is seemingly out of place. Actress Anna Scott (Julia Roberts). Her face is plastered on double-decker buses all down the squares. She made $ 15 million on her last film, circa 1999. You would think she’s got it made. But this woman takes her turn and shares about her own brokenness. She’s had surgeries to maintain her beauty. The tabloids rake her life over the coals, and when she gets old, she will only be remembered as the shell of someone who used to be famous.

It’s a haunting, honest look at what it means to be a celebrity superstar, and it is for this reason that Notting Hill works as a charming, at times witty, and altogether unlikely romantic comedy. It’s this simple suggestion that two people, from two entirely different spheres of life, can be together, because of the simple urge of every human for companionship, closeness, and someone to know they exist.

The two individuals, in this case, are Anna who I’ve already mentioned and Will Thacker (Hugh Grant). He’s a nobody just like you and me. He owns a corner travel bookstore, very cleverly named The Travel Book Co. He’s gotten his heart broken seriously twice and his roommate is the oddest crackpot you could ever have the misfortune of living with. That is his average, everyday life, in the neighborhood of Notting Hall.

That’s what makes a visit by an inconspicuous Anna Scott to his bookstore all the more extraordinary, while still allowing for the suspension of disbelief. Everything follows sequentially as it should. He runs into her with a cup of coffee and offers his flat as a place to freshen up. The first kiss comes quite by accident. Days later he winds up in a press conference once again face to face with this great star. But she surprises him by being his date to a small dinner for his sister’s birthday. A nighttime jaunt is accented with all the romance you could ever expect.

It’s too perfect and what follows are two obligatory strikes in their fantasy relationship. Will learns about Anna’s big shot boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) who is back in town. He’s caught off guard by it. Months go by as he tries to forget her, but she shows up on his doorstep looking for that person to talk to once more. When the tabloids show up, she is peeved, directing all her anger at Will, perhaps a little unfairly. And that looks to be the end of it all.

Months roll on again like pages in a travel log and here Anna is again in his shop, like the first time they met.  There’s an earnestness in her request to rekindle a relationship that makes us ache for Roberts. Like any frightened, often wounded, ordinary man, Will turns her down. It’s the logical decision. After all, he doesn’t want to get hurt again. Strike three. Except… his friends rally with him to catch her before it’s too late, because what’s the fun of rationality?

They go racing like a daft crew from Top Gear, “Gimme Some Lovin'” thumping in rhythm with Will’s beating heart. He gets to the Savoy Hotel just in time for her final press conference. A la Roman Holiday he professes his love incognito, and they wind up with it all. Red carpets, quiet afternoons in the park, and most importantly each other.

Notting Hall had me hooked simply with its images of England, a place that is near and dear to my own heart. It’s also a wonderful backdrop for romance, and this story from Richard Curtis finds it’s perfect duo in Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. He is handsome certainly, but that is overshadowed by his decent, every man quality which attracts Anna to him. He’s the man who willingly defends her honor in a restaurant, not because it’s easy, but it’s simply the right thing to do. Meanwhile, Roberts perhaps is playing a version of herself, as an actress, but she gives the character the necessary insecurities, eliciting more sympathy than I would have thought possible for someone coming out of Hollywood. Yes, Notting Hall might be a few minutes too long, but getting to walk down Portobello Road just might be worth it.

3.5/5 Stars