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'Four Weddings and a Funeral' (R)

By Megan Rosenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 19, 1994

"Four Weddings and a Funeral" is an English lark full of lovely hats and pretty Brits, a movie to cheer you up and on and help you feel that spring will, in fact, arrive before we are all too desiccated to enjoy it. And amid its frothy fun of wedding disasters and romantic shenanigans, it is possible to observe like armchair anthropologists how strange our mating rituals are, and yet how necessary.

Hugh Grant, the current (and deserved) cinema heartthrob, stars as adorable, chronically late Charlie, who is invited to everybody's wedding but can't seem to settle down himself. He is in a crowd of young upper-middle-class folks who have vague jobs at magazines or banks and spend their evenings being extremely trendy. They fall in and out of bed with each other, and eventually pair off and have huge weddings at old churches with a lot of drinking afterward.

Director Mike Newell and scriptwriter Richard Curtis take great glee in spoofing these dos -- the country wedding with the awful folk duo, complete with dreadful haircuts; the priest who continually makes bumbles like "your awful wedded wife"; the tinny rock band and awkward but strangely joyous dancing.

And, of course, the flirting. Charlie's eyes land on Carrie, played by Andie MacDowell, and they begin a sexual minuet that starts and fits and sputters until the final scenes. The difference between this hapless movie romance and something that might have starred Carole Lombard is that these two have sex instead of cocktails.

It's an old-fashioned story with modern accouterments. Charlie's brother David (David Bower) is deaf, and their sign language communications permit much rudeness unread by others. Part of Charlie's circle of friends is a gay couple (Simon Callow and John Hannah); the death of one of them after an energetic Highland fling provides the funeral of the title. This ritual, in contrast to the frivolity of the weddings, spurs Charlie to really think about commitment (as much as he is capable of) and spins the movie off to its eventful finale.

Charlie's set also includes Kristin Scott Thomas, who played that exquisite nun so well on "Masterpiece Theatre" recently. Here she is the acerbic Fiona, who pines for Charlie but knows she will have to find another. Scarlett, a punk waif type (Charlotte Coleman), rooms with Charlie and is always "bonking" chaps who don't care about her. Needless to say, she ends up with a tall American who claims his name is Rhett.

Some of the funniest scenes bounce off the nightmares of every bride and groom before the wedding. What if the best man forgets the rings? What if his toast is tactless? What if your hosts place you at a table with four former girlfriends, who all know the mean nicknames you gave them, like Vomiting Veronica and Miss Piggy? And what if the groom changes his mind at the very last minute?

Grant, as charming and cute as he is, has no great demands made on him. He skates through his scenes with MacDowell trying to create sexual combustion that never quite ignites. Maybe it's her; something about MacDowell's gap-toothed loveliness is profoundly air-headed. Maybe the problem is that it's hard to believe that a woman who calmly lists her 33 sexual partners is capable of a deep and consuming passion.

Oh, piffle, who cares. There will always be an England, and those great hats. And how can you resist a leading man who says, in utter seriousness, "In the words of David Cassidy, I think I love you"?

Four Weddings and a Funeral is rated R for naughty words and sex scenes.

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