‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ keeps working its funny, romantic magic

Movie Review

Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”

An original yet universal plot … an overnight star … enduring charm … “Four Weddings and a Funeral” checks a lot of the boxes that keeps a movie hugely popular over time.

Director Mike Newell’s British 1994 comedy — which The Movie Channel presents Tuesday, Aug. 31 — opened a cottage industry of such films. Many of them have continued to involve writer and eventual director Richard Curtis, who used his own nuptials-attending experiences to weave the story of seemingly eternal bachelor Charles and his close group of friends and acquaintances (and their respective love lives).

The casting of Charles is key, since it’s hard if not impossible to imagine “Four Weddings and a Funeral” without Hugh Grant. He had done a number of period dramas in which he didn’t necessarily stand out, but the boyish vulnerability he brought to this role made all the difference. It also kept serving him well in other projects, including the Curtis-generated “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually.”

Charles and his immediate group attend weddings quite regularly, and at one, he meets an alluring American named Carrie (Andie MacDowell). By the time their encounter is over and she has to return to the U.S., they’ve gotten to know each other quite intimately. They’re destined to cross paths again — and again — and when they do, surprises will be in store.

That relationship is central to “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” tying together what essentially are long vignettes, each focused on one of the title occasions. However, Newell and Curtis are smart to give ample time as well to a marvelous array of supporting players who all have their moments in the course of the picture.

Kristin Scott Thomas, Simon Callow, John Hannah, James Fleet, Charlotte Coleman and David Bower are individually and collectively great as Charles’ “gang,” with Callow and Hannah standouts as a committed couple. Callow’s Gareth is an energetic bundle of in-your-face joy (his bawdy laughs during a desperately unfunny wedding-reception speech are priceless), and then-film-novice Hannah excels as Matthew in the picture’s most dramatic moment. Also notable: Rowan Atkinson as a clearly inexperienced and nervous clergyman.

As big a success as “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was around the world, it had a particularly pronounced effect on the film industry in its native England. It became that business’ top homegrown moneymaker up to the time, and it obviously paved the way for Curtis to keep doing his particular brand of romantic comedy in his other aforementioned that also grabbed hearts globally.

A Hulu series inspired by “Four Weddings and a Funeral” had a brief run, and the film got a mini-sequel during one of Curtis’ “Red Nose Day” initiatives, but neither lived up to the original. And the happy news is that almost 30 years later, that original remains as wonderful as ever.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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