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Four Weddings and a Funeral Blu-ray Review

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) movie poster Four Weddings and a Funeral

U.S. Theatrical Release: March 11, 1994 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Mike Newell / Writer: Richard Curtis

Cast: Hugh Grant (Charles), Andie MacDowell (Carrie), Kristin Scott Thomas (Fiona), Simon Callow (Gareth), Charlotte Coleman (Scarlett), James Fleet (Tom), John Hannah (Matthew), David Bower (David), Corin Redgrave (Hamish), Rowan Atkinson (Father Gerald), Anna Chancellor (Henrietta), David Haig (Bernard), Sophie Thompson (Lydia), Timothy Walker (Angus), Sara Crowe (Laura), Simon Kunz (John with the Unfaithful Wife), Robin McCaffrey (Serena), Michael Mears (The Boatman Waiter), Kenneth Griffiths (Mad Old Man), John Abbott (Polite Verger)

Buy Four Weddings and a Funeral from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Deluxe Edition DVD Instant Video

In 1994, Four Weddings and a Funeral introduced American moviegoers to the two Brits perhaps most associated with romantic comedy ever since: leading man Hugh Grant and writer Richard Curtis. Grant had been acting in England for over ten years, to little renown. Curtis had written and co-created with comedian Rowan Atkinson the television series "Blackadder" and "Mr. Bean."
Grant and Curtis have remained in demand, their comedy films often received almost as warmly by Americans as by viewers back home. Their later collaborations, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Love Actually, have performed as strongly stateside as almost any British film export outside the Harry Potter franchise.

The U.S. success of Four Weddings is something no one could have foreseen. It claimed the second of three consecutive March weekends debuting Hugh Grant films in limited release. The first, the comedy Sirens, turned a healthy profit. The third, Roman Polanski's horror film Bitter Moon, fizzled. Opening in between those, Four Weddings would become one of the great independent movie hits, soaring on word of mouth and spending over two months in the box office's top ten. It wasn't just the general public that enjoyed this; the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences remembered the film the following winter, bestowing upon it Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

It lost both of those awards, Picture to Forrest Gump and Screenplay to Pulp Fiction. The passing of time confirms those two films as tough competition and there was also The Shawshank Redemption, the greatest movie ever (by IMDb vote, anyway), to consider. Surrounded by certified American classics (a group that should also include The Lion King, although the Academy predictably limited it to music recognition), Four Weddings seems fortunate to have even been nominated. Next to these contemporaries, the film is quaint, narrow, and unspectacular. When judged for what it is, a small British romantic comedy, it is much easier to appreciate and even label a watershed film.

Irresponsible best man Charles (Hugh Grant) gives a toast at the first wedding. Carrie (Andie MacDowell) reconnects with Charles at the inn where they're both staying.

Four Weddings and a Funeral is not merely a catchy and memorable title, but also an accurate description of this film's design. Thirtysomething bachelor Charles (Grant) doesn't quite have his life in order yet, but he has friends and those friends ask him to be a part of their weddings. He accepts, always oversleeping and having to make a mad dash to the church along with his ditzy roommate Scarlett (the late Charlotte Coleman).
As far as love goes, Charles hasn't found it, though he has more than a few ex-girlfriends. At the wedding with which the film opens, Charles' eye is caught by a pretty American named Carrie (Andie MacDowell). They connect at their inn, spend the night together, and then part ways.

They unexpectedly reunite at the second wedding, a fast union for a couple who met at the previous ceremony. Excited Charles is crushed to learn that Carrie has gotten engaged to a wealthy Scotsman. They supply the third wedding, at a Scottish castle, where one of Charles' friends suddenly dies, prompting the titular funeral. Charles' own wedding comes last, a climax played with some suspense and uncertainty, as he pauses to consider he might be making the biggest mistake of his life.

I'm not a big fan of weddings and comedy movie weddings tend to be the worst of all. So, with its only briefly interrupted parade of matrimonies, this film could have been a tortuous exercise. That is prevented by the creative talent here. Grant and Curtis are two people whose names relieve the wincing that the phrase "romantic comedy" often inspires. Neither the actor nor the writer have the most flawless of track records. In their numerous films, both have specialized in catering to American expectations of British comedy. Love Actually may be their best known and best loved pairing and, while infinitely more appealing than its U.S. equivalent (Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day), the ensemble, star-studded 2003 romcom doesn't leave me feeling as warm and fuzzy as it hopes to. It unfolds with a series of happy endings, a manipulative design that points to sentimentality as the one area Curtis tends to lose me. When divorced from Atkinson's broad physicality, his comic sensibility is typically sound. But it's not always comfortable leading in and out of mushy moments.

Revisiting Four Weddings reveals that Curtis' strength and weakness were present at the start of his filmmaking career (which actually began with the okay 1989 Jeff Goldblum/Emma Thompson romcom The Tall Guy). The laughs are there and so is the cheese that pervades romantic cinema. Curtis' growth may be modest, but what of Hugh Grant's? He accepted America's British movie star opening and in the years he's held that position, has used it to make romantic comedies in which he plays the charming, stammering lead. He's adept at that part, remaining appealing even when unpleasant. But he seems uninterested in acting challenges and, lately, uninterested in acting, having made one movie (the dud Did You Hear About the Morgans?) in the past four years.

Three months after meeting at the first wedding, Carrie (Andie MacDowell) and Charles (Hugh Grant) reconnect under new circumstances at the second wedding. Richard Curtis collaborator Rowan Atkinson appears as nervous, novice Father Gerald, who sweats and stumbles his way through the second wedding's vows.

Predating and detached from such mediocrity, Four Weddings is reasonably enjoyable. Director Mike Newell (previously known for Enchanted April, and now for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) brings class to the proceedings, ensuring things don't get too silly. The film provides an interesting treatment of secondary characters, sparing Charles' friends proper introductions and allowing us to get to know them over time. They include the loudmouthed Gareth (a humorous Simon Callow), rich dolt Tom (James Fleet, who began starring in Curtis' sitcom "The Vicar of Dibley" the same year), secretive Scotsman Matthew (John Hannah, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand"), and deaf brother David (David Bower). The lack of exposition adds realism, but we notice character development shortcomings when Tom's sister (a peripheral Kristin Scott Thomas) professes her long-private love for one in the circle of friends and we don't question how the object could not know.

Not all the jokes hit their marks. Two gags -- Atkinson as a nervous new priest who can't get the betrothed's names right and Charles finding himself in the bedroom of passionate newlyweds -- are prolonged beyond reason. The central romance on which the movie is founded doesn't appear to be based on anything substantial. And yet, considering we hardly stray from the titular ceremonies, the movie impressively manages to hit upon profundities as it tactfully tackles the universal obligation of finding a soulmate with whom to settle down.

The all-time top grossing release of Gramercy Pictures, Four Weddings and a Funeral joined the MGM video library after parent company Polygram Filmed Entertainment was sold and merged with Universal Pictures. MGM released the film to DVD in 1999 and again in 2006 as a Deluxe Edition. This past January, the movie made its Blu-ray debut as a Target exclusive and early last month, the same Blu-ray, which we review here, entered general release.

Four Weddings and a Funeral Blu-ray cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS (French, Italian, Castilian), Dolby Surround (Spanish, Portuguese, Polish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Castilian, Swedish, Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Thai, Polish, Chinese, Turkish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English, French, Dutch, Spanish
Release Date: July 5, 2011 (available as Target exclusive January 11, 2011)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $16.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available as Deluxe Edition DVD ($14.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Four Weddings and a Funeral looks great in the Blu-ray's 1.85:1 presentation. The movie maintains its 1990s film appearance (something I'm only now starting to recognize), but with a remarkably clean and highly detailed print. Optical shots, holding the burned-in subtitles translating Charlie and his brothers' sign language exchanges, do display some tiny particles, but otherwise the element is stellar, even if the visuals it displays are pretty unremarkable. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is similar, in that it too delivers high quality without having the most exciting elements to exhibit. Dialogue is satisfyingly crisp almost throughout, while music and atmosphere are sufficient, if somewhat low-key.

The disc is unusually mindful of foreign audiences, wielding eight dubs and an astonishing 28 subtitle streams, most unmentioned on the case and some in languages I can't identify in their native tongue and which my player could only assign 4-digit numbers to. Hooray for globalization and godspeed trying to navigate to the ones you desire. Included in that count are subtitles for the audio commentary, a nice and rare touch for a Fox/MGM title.

Screenwriter Richard Curtis discusses "Four Weddings" back in the '90s, when his hair was still blonde. Director Mike Newell is among "The Wedding Planners" looking back at the film a decade later.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The extras begin with an audio commentary by director Mike Newell, producer Duncan Kenworthy, and writer/co-executive producer Richard Curtis. Their discussion, recorded in 2004, is spirited and enjoyable. They recall in detail their production experiences, studio title concerns,
and the thrill of the film's warm reception. Curtis also shares the personal experiences that inspired his screenplay (prompting one of his co-speakers to joke he doesn't actually write, he writes down). It's an unusually rewarding listen.

Video bonus features, almost all in standard definition, follow.

"Four Weddings and a Funeral... in the Making" (7:45) is a promotional featurette from the time of production, which means it's promotional and lacks perspective. Still, it's always fun to get insight and footage during a film's making.

"The Wedding Planners" (29:48) is a modern retrospective. Interviewed here are the three audio commentators, as well as Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Simon Callow, and executive producer Tim Bevan. They cover the usual bases: casting, collaboration, filming, reception, and legacy, with some of the remarks repeating those heard in the commentary. (Note to Andie MacDowell: Your best movie is called Groundhog Day, not Groundhog's Day.)

"Two Actors and a Director" (5:41) gathers some more thoughts from Newell, Grant, and MacDowell about casting and each other. It feels like a redundant reel of unused bits from the previous piece, padded by lots of movie clips.

Gareth (Simon Callow) puts his card on a more impressive wedding gift in this deleted scene. In two unused teasers, Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant speak directly to viewers, encouraging them to see their film.

Five deleted scenes are offered in a slightly rough state. Brief, small moments give a little more context to the characters (including those of Atkinson, Coleman, and Callow), and there are also two amusing wedding line jokes. The scenes can be viewed with introductions by producer Kenworthy, which extends the 4-minute lot to 10 minutes.

Under "Promotional Spots", we get an intro from Kenworthy (1:38) that explains the other two items in this section, referenced earlier in the commentary.
These unused teasers (0:35, 1:13) feature Hugh Grant and Andie Macdowell selling the film directly to us in comic addresses.

Finally, we get the film's original theatrical trailer (2:08), an always appropriate inclusion and the disc's only hi-def extra.

This Blu-ray doesn't hang onto all of the movie's past bonus features. The music video for Wet Wet Wet's "Love Is All Around" (a song all over the bonus features) hasn't turned up since the film's original 1997 Polygram DVD. Nor, more understandably, have the cast biographies and filmographies that the industry has decided people don't need. From MGM's 1999 DVD, the collectible making-of booklet obviously doesn't survive in any form. The only item not ported over from the 2006 Deluxe Edition DVD is a 35-still photo gallery.

There is no menu screen offered here, which is annoying when you want to check out extras and have to deal with the movie playing and loudly resuming after each one. While accessing menu options without leaving the movie is advertised as a benefit of Blu-ray, I don't like it and would have preferred even a basic picture of the cover over no menu at all. Points are also lost on account of the Blu-ray's inability to resume playback and support bookmarks; I see no reason for it to have been encoded with BD-J.

The film's ensemble of seven friends share the screen for a toast at the third wedding, just moments before one of them will suffer a heart attack and die.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I think most people would be more comfortable calling Four Weddings and a Funeral a good movie than a great one. Having seen it twice, that's how I feel about this transatlantic hit. It's an appealing little comedy that took the world by storm in 1994, and though that reception is a little curious in retrospect, it's perfectly understandable that viewers liked this then and will continue to do so now. I appreciate that it advanced the careers of Hugh Grant and Richard Curtis, and can't help but feel that the UK got less from the US in return in the loan of Andie MacDowell at what would be the high point of her acting career.

The Blu-ray delivers a terrific presentation of the film, with picture and sound as good as anyone could hope for. The disc brings no new extras to the table, but the Deluxe Edition DVD supplements it retains are good company. The only annoying things about this release are the inexplicable lack of a menu screen and bookmarks or resuming. And if you can watch the film in one sitting as intended, that will largely be a non-issue for you.

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Reviewed August 3, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1994 PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Channel Four Films, Working Title Films, and
2006-2011 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.