Four Weddings and a Funeral: Special Edition Review
As everyone knows, Four Weddings and a Funeral is pretty much the film that paved the way for a whole swathe of British romantic comedies over the past decade. Not to mention that it's one of the most successful British films of its time… and thus of all time, I would imagine. Regardless, it's over ten years old now and MGM has finally graced us with a better DVD version of this much-loved film; yes, that's right – a special edition! And it really is about time too.
The film, for anyone who hasn't seen it (though I can't imagine this being true of anyone reading this), revolves around the life of a group of fairly well-to-do friends who seem to spend a lot of their lives attending social functions such as weddings. There's posh Fiona (Kristin Scott-Thomas) and her rather daft brother Tom (James Fleet), eccentric Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman), gay couple Gareth and Matthew (Simon Callow and John Hannah), bumbling Charles (Hugh Grant), and his deaf brother David (David Bower). As the title suggests, the film consists of four weddings and one funeral, which highlights the significance of such social events at bringing together both close and distant friends and uniting them for a set period of time in either joy or sadness.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a film which operates around a central theme consisting of the many forms of love from platonic through to passionate. The primary focus, however, is the nascent relationship between Charles and an American named Carrie (Andie McDowell). The pair meet at the first celebration and consummate the romance after the second – but things are complicated by Carrie's engagement to a very overbearing older man, played superbly by Corin Redgrave.
The script was written by Richard Curtis (The Tall Guy, Blackadder, Notting Hill, both Bridget Jones films, etc.) and as one of his first forays into film writing, he does particularly well in not allowing the humour – of which he's so capable – to override the story he's trying to tell. Director Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco, Mona Lisa Smile, and the upcoming Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) does a good job of bringing the script to the screen, and from the commentary track it's obvious the two worked together very well – Newell even gives a critique of his own directorial skill, while explaining why he'd never do certain shots the same way again.
The casting is something that really helped the film to succeed, in my opinion. Hugh Grant, though he had appeared in a few other things beforehand, creates an affable if scatty character so well that it's taken him a while to escape that particular stereotype – if indeed he ever truly has. The late Charlotte Coleman (also known for her roles in Educating Marmalade, Worzel Gummidge and Oranges are not the Only Fruit), and distinguished thesp Simon Callow add great charm to the central circle of friends with an undeniable eccentricity and joie de vivre. John Hannah and Kristin Scott-Thomas deliver solid performances that were to stand them in good stead for furthering their exposure and careers subsequent to this. In fact, for me this film is only really let down by Andie McDowell, who, fresh from a decent performance in Groundhog Day, just seems a trifle wooden next to her British co-stars. Luckily the film lavishes plenty of attention on those selfsame co-stars and the chemistry between them all made for enjoyable and highly successful cinema.
Is it a good film, though? Well, it definitely has its flaws. The relationship between Carrie and Charles isn't 100% believable, and we never really learn what the majority of the characters do when they're not attending weddings. Curtis and Newell were also concerned that the audience wouldn't be able to empathise with the decidedly affluent lifestyle that is portrayed in this film. But something about it just works. Whether it's the quirky characters, the real situations some of them find themselves in, or just a mixture of a bright, young cast, a decent storyline and a humorous and well-written script – Four Weddings and a Funeral certainly hit a vein with the public and many films which have since attempted to re-create the formula have fallen on their feet.
As with previous releases of Four Weddings and a Funeral, the film is offered here in its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio. However for the first time ever, it's given an anamorphic presentation on this Special Edition DVD. Speaking of which, the picture quality is perfectly adequate without being awe-inspiring. Colours are bright and cheerful, the various skin tones all look natural and realistic, and there's no murkiness evident in the darker hues (for example, true black does not appear dark grey). While I witnessed some faint grain in scenes here and there, it's really not noticeable enough to detract from enjoyment of what is overall a very nice transfer of a film loved by many. Nor would I classify this as an overly 'soft' print, although at times it does lack the crispness that I normally associate with top-notch anamorphic video.
The soundtrack is only available in English and is presented in the usual Dolby Digital 5.1… but a DD 5.1 mix which doesn't precisely pull out all the stops. It has to be said that in general the rear speakers don't get much of a workout, but this fortunately doesn't affect the film too badly as the story is, after all, conveyed more through dialogue than via action. On that subject, the success of a production like this hinges upon amusing banter delivered crisply, with perfect timing and comic sensibility, and Four Weddings and a Funeral might well have suffered had the score (even one as pleasant as this, by Richard Rodney Bennett, one of my personal favourite composers) been allowed to overwhelm the repartee. The good news is that the dialogue is clearly audible throughout and the background music very much stays where it should. (For those who may be interested, this particular release only provides subtitles in English.)
The disc menus aren't anything to sing about, but they get the job done – fairly utilitarian (albeit widescreen) affairs, with low-key animated screens and subtle transitions between sub-menus.
On the other hand, special features is an area that should particularly excite fans of the film. Whereas it is safe to say that previous releases have been fairly bare-bones, MGM have at last come through with a nice selection of special features, ranging from the theatrical trailer and promotional spots to a full-length audio commentary by Mike Newell, Richard Curtis and the film's producers.
So let's begin with the commentary. It's chatty, interesting and even quite amusing at times, and makes for a very enjoyable listen. Between them, the commentators manage to cover all manner of background regarding the production of the film, going so far as to critique their own work. Nor do they fail to share a wealth of anecdotes about the cast and crew, the evolution of the concept, the filming process, and the post-production marketing. It's definitely a commentary worth listening to purely for some of the light banter between Mike Newell and Richard Curtis, but also obviously to learn some more about how this iconic film was made.
Another extra provided is the traditional deleted scenes section, and for once, I can honestly say I understand why every single one of them was omitted, and I'm actually glad they were. Specifically, there are five deleted scenes provided here ('the wedding line', 'the novice priest', 'the deaf father', 'the friends', and 'the kiss'), each followed by a brief on-camera critique/commentary by producer Duncan Kenworthy (who has since produced Notting Hill, The Parole Officer and the more recent Love Actually). It's good for completeness, and yet another interesting insight into film-making (albeit on the editing side this time), but they come across as a trifle on the dreary side, and only really serve to underscore how important the editing process was here – it could have been quite a different film with even one such change of pacing.
Carrying on with the 'meaty' content, we have a trio of featurettes of varying lengths: 'Four Weddings and a Funeral…in the Making' (about 8 minutes long), 'The Wedding Planners' (about half an hour in length), and 'Two Actors and a Director' (just under 6 minutes long). These are all pretty standard fare, truth be told, with brief interview segments with cast and crew intercut with behind-the-scenes footage taken during filming. The 'making of' featurette is probably the weakest content-wise, more of a promo piece than anything else.
Finally the special features are rounded off by the usual photo gallery (a framed, slideshow-style presentation of 32 pictures lasting about a minute and a half), the original theatrical trailer, and two somewhat-dire promotional spots featuring Andie McDowell and Hugh Grant apparently trying to cajole American audiences into coming to see the film based upon her recognisable name and his general wackiness.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a grande dame of modern British romantic comedies, which breathed new life into the British film industry and spent a goodly time as the biggest grossing British film of all time. Although it has its flaws, it also possesses something unique that's entertaining and enjoyable to watch. Over ten years after the film's release, it finally gets a DVD release that does it some credit with an interesting set of extras and a good transfer.