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'Four Weddings and a Funeral'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 18, 1994


Mike Newell
Hugh Grant;
Andie MacDowell;
Rowan Atkinson;
Simon Callow;
Sophie Thompson;
Kristin Scott Thomas
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Women—at least those I talk to—love Hugh Grant. They just looove that little Englishman. I think he brings out the mother in them because of his fussily British, endearingly confused manner, as if he's a Merchant-Ivory version of Clark Kent.

It's hard to say this and retain my guy card, but I sort of like him too. I really don't want to. He's too delicately chiseled and twinkly-eyed. He looks too accustomed to easy favors based on his looks. In "Four Weddings and a Funeral," a romantic comedy of manners and nuptial invitations, my nicer attitude wins out. There's a disarming undertone to everything Grant does. Dressed almost constantly in morning coat and white shirt (ladies, please swoon here), he works effectively—and comically—against his appearance.

A single 32-year-old, Grant, along with his friends, seems to live from one wedding invitation to the next. But the more of these monkey-suit functions he attends, the further he feels from tying the knot himself. A mass of hesitant shortcomings, from shyness to fear of commitment, Grant hasn't hurt for girlfriends in the past but has managed to destroy every relationship. He's rather concerned about the prospect of terminal bachelorhood, until (in the movie's first wedding), he sets eyes on footloose, beautiful American Andie MacDowell.

Thanks to MacDowell's ingenuity—and no thanks to Grant's trysting incompetence—the couple manages to enjoy a romantic skirmish the night of the wedding. But MacDowell is bound for the United States the following morning. Grant, a passive but passionately smitten participant in this affair, waits desperately for MacDowell to reappear. She does—only to announce her engagement to another.

For the movie's remaining three weddings and one funeral (actually, there are more weddings, if you count a concluding sequence), Grant pines for his American, hoping desperately against hope. For a movie loaded down with repetitive ceremony, best-man speeches and champagne sipping, screenwriter Richad Curtis (writer of the English "Blackadder" series) and director Mike Newell (who made "Enchanted April") keep things lively and entertaining; each wedding is garnished with its own distinctive mood and dramatic significance.

The players, who include Simon Callow, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rowan Atkinson and Sophie Thompson, exude comedic brightness as they go about their gossipy, farcical, self-deprecating, sorry-about-that-old-chap, just-being-English business.

Atkinson—a ham, but funny nonetheless—is particularly amusing as a nervous priest presiding over his first wedding and exhorting the groom to take the bride as his "awfully wedded wife."

As for the central affair—the only one, ironically, that isn't turning into marriage—it's made doubly charming by Grant and MacDowell (whose extraordinary face and presence more than justify his romantic obsession). They so obviously belong to each other that, in a church-wedding finale that threatens their loving future, you're kept at the edge of your pew until the very last moment.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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