A Comedy of Marryment

If real-life nuptials are even a quarter as funny as those portrayed in Four Weddings and a Funeral, get me to the church on time. Mike Newell's very English romantic comedy features reception dancing so spastic that it reflects badly even on cute children, and a folk duo so frightful that in the credits they're actually billed as "Frightful Folk Duo." The film is hilarious enough to make one yearn for the prospect of attending yet another marriage ceremony.

Four Weddings and a Funeral confines itself to a year's round of four weddings and a funeral attended by a group of posh, thirtysomething close friends. Principal among them is Charles, a dapper, self-deprecating chap played by Hugh Grant with a charm reminiscent of another Grant -- Cary. For all his breeding, wit and urbanity, Charles is a hapless "serial monogamist," bewilderedly in awe of those who commit. At the first wedding, for which he's a very late -- and ringless -- best man, he meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell), a beautiful, mysterious world traveler. Since he's a bit bashful, she seduces him. At the remaining weddings and the funeral, they try very hard not to fall in love, so hard that one of the weddings is hers, one his. The movie's concluding song is "Chapel of Love."

Directed trippingly by Newell with the perception he used in Enchanted April, and written deftly by Richard Curtis (The Tall Guy), Weddings' considerable humor includes Rowan Atkinson as a novice priest so nervous at officiating his first wedding that "Holy Goat" and "Holy Spigot" figure prominently in the vows. With the exception of MacDowell, who's less alluring than sweet, the agreeable ensemble is excellent, notably Charlotte Coleman as Charles' eccentric roommate, Scarlett, who, after somebody gets jilted, reflects, "It was a lovely dress. I'm sure she'll find it useful for a party." Simon Callow also has a good time hamming it up as Charles' gay friend Gareth, flamboyant enough to enter a Scottish wedding proclaiming, "It's Brigadoon!" Deaf actor David Rower portrays Charles' sly brother, blithely smiling as he disses everybody in signs only Charles can understand. The comedy even sustains a moment of great poignancy, as W.H. Auden's lovely elegy "Funeral Blues: Stop All the Clocks, Cut Off the Telephone..." is recited by a grieving lover.

But with rain-soaked embraces, hundreds of extras dressed to the nines, and giddy brides thanking guests with "I've never met you before, but I love you very much," amusement wins the day. So does Grant; with tousled hair, he's dashing, quite, even when Charles is seated at a table among ex-girlfriends who remember exactly what he's said about them -- and each other.

-- Peter Szatmary


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