Bright, nasty people and snappy lines give 'Four Weddings' its charm

March 18, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Suddenly, it's raining Hugh Grant. He's everywhere. The dashing Brit is in "Sirens," which opens next week, in Roman Polanski's "Bitter Moon," which opens next month, and he was just in "The Remains of the Day." But it's "Four Weddings and a Funeral," which opens today at the Rotunda, that should make him a star, for it's the first of his films to really push his gifts to the forefront.

He's so adorable it's almost impossible not to either want to sleep with him or to be him. (I'd choose the being, thank you very much.) He could charm the birds out of the trees, and then charm them back in. He could melt the nickels in your pocket or the silver in your teeth.

In "Weddings," he plays a bright young thing named Charles, so glib and arch that he could have been created by Evelyn Waugh before Evelyn Waugh turned into a bitter drunk. Charles, besides being drop-dead handsome in that puppyish University way, is presumably well-educated and working in some amusing but not terribly strenuous London profession; one would think advertising, or possibly the BBC or Granada. It's one of the movie's more precious strokes to deny us any key demographic information, while flooding us with intimate revelation.

What rivets and absorbs Charles are two things: his circle of friends and his yearning for a meaningful relationship with a woman. Clearly, these two are antithetical. The friends are bright and nasty and share the magic of the charmed circle; everyone on the outside is scum -- especially the women who are brought in and auditioned for their approval. (They call one of them "Duckface"; you get the picture.)

A very social group, they seem to be continually invited to weddings where they only vaguely know the bride and groom, get drunk, dance badly, insult the haute bourgeoise and try to pick up women or men, depending; all the while exchanging fast-lane quips that buttress their own complete superiority.

That the movie manages to not only make them amusing, but likable, is its first amazement. That it gets a brilliant performance out of Andie McDowell is its second.

McDowell plays a jet-setting American fashion type named Carrie, who is -- typical arch line as delivered deadpan by one of the friends -- "way out of your league, Charles." Probably true. But Carrie takes an immediate liking to Charles and thus begins a bumbling courtship, which takes place over the run of the five ceremonies indicated by the title.

The screenplay, by Richard Curtis, had better be clever or it's the movie's funeral. Fortunately, Curtis, who wrote "The Tall Guy," is up to snuff. The movie dazzles with its slick lines, but there's a situational intelligence at play too -- little vignettes involving minor characters are begun at one wedding and then )) evolve into major events at the next. For example, a couple of strangers get smashed and start necking at one; at the next, they're the bride and groom!

Meanwhile, Charles and Carrie keep bumping into each other at these ceremonies, going to bed rapturously, and then moving sadly on. One assumes that the wondrous Grant relaxed McDowell considerably; she's never seemed so comfortable and lovely. On top of that, or as a result, the intimacy and the perfection of their chemistry crackles off the screen.

But their timing stinks. It seems that each isn't available when the other is -- they're either engaged (in his case) or married (in hers) to other people. They take what's available -- a lunch, a shopping trip, a dalliance -- and move on. In one cruel irony, she ends up seated at the table with all his friends while he's exiled with Duckface. And they love her.

The movie is sharp enough not to sentimentalize either Charles or Carrie too much. Her account of her sex life is somewhat mind-boggling, at least by my pitiful standards. When he finally makes his commitment in the late going, he commits a terrible crime against another young woman and the movie doesn't try and turn this into anything noble. It can't; Charles has been a selfish jerk reaching for his own happiness.

But that's not what's wrong with "Four Weddings and A Funeral" -- that's what's right!

"Four Weddings

and a Funeral"

Starring Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell

Directed by Mike Newell

Released by Grammercy

R-rated

***

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