Farce is an English specialty that Americans may love, but the making of it eludes us.
"Four Weddings and a Funeral" is another lesson from the masters. Farce is an English specialty that Americans may love, but the making of it eludes us. Underneath the English reserve lies an enviable sense of the absurd entirely alien to those of us who take ourselves so seriously that we miss the comedy of the human condition.
Taking five ceremonial mileposts in the lives of a group of close friends, director Mike Newell targets all the banalities of such occasions. When two seedy guitar players bless a wedding by performing at the altar of a church encrusted with tradition, we laugh at the familiarity of endless variations on the theme of tweaking the ceremonial nose of the establishment.
All the things that can go wrong at weddings happen here before our appreciative eyes. The best man oversleeps, forgets the rings, insults the guests unintentionally and generally undermines the supercharged tension of such occasions. When the best man is Charles (Hugh Grant), the comedy is both broad and subtle. Because he is rumpled, smart, vulnerable and thoroughly lovable, everything around him jumps to life.
At the first of the four weddings, Charles loses his heart - on sight - to Carrie (Andie MacDowell), a beautiful and appropriately enigmatic American. The question of "will they/won't they" builds to a wonderful comic tension in the climactic scenes, gripping the audience in a prolonged and delicious anxiety. How can they possibly end this movie? The unexpected is Director Newell's gift to his audience.
These friends rally as each takes his turn at the altar, an ensemble of wedding guests turning out for their own, and by the end of the movie we know them well and wish we could be the last guest at the wedding, the last mourner at the funeral.
The cast is uniformly right in portraying love through lightness. Rowan Atkinson is sidesplitting as a priest-in- training who presides over his first wedding in a nightmare of self-consciousness. John Hannah, in a greatly moving eulogy, allows us to see, just for a moment, the depth beneath the laughter. Charlotte Coleman is very funny as Scarlett, Charles' roommate, who decides she is sick of being a guest. If the movie sinks for a while in the middle, it's quite understandable that it must quiet itself after such a roaring beginning to gather steam for a rollicking ending.
This is a sparkler whose only downside is that it has to end, but not before it has made us ponder the English ways of love and eccentricity. If only they could dust us, just every now and then, with a little of their whimsy.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 495
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