In the 90s a Richard Curtis film must not have yet had the connotations of “a Richard Curtis movie”, least of all Four Weddings, which was released in 1994, making it Curtis’ second feature film and the first to star Hugh Grant.
I suppose, in hindsight, it must have felt very fresh when it first came out. The 90s were the high point for rom coms, in much the same way the best teen movies are from the 80s. From Nora Ephron and When Harry Met Sally (1989) through Groundhog Day (1993) and Sleepless in Seattle (also 1993, also written by Ephron), the States had some strong and still popular offerings, and Richard Curtis was the UK’s answer. Four Weddings was the precursor to Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary and the ultimate Curtis feel-good pinnacle Love Actually in 2003 before things took a real nosedive into 00s dross: think The Holiday, 50 First Dates, Along Came Polly, The Break-Up and so on. Bad movies.
So, anyway, no-one in 1994 would have expected Hugh Grant to do his charming Hugh Grant thing, nor for a the film to centre on a group of heavy-drinking friends who all swear at each other all the time, nor even necessarily for a last-minute reconciliation or declaration of love in the rain/at an airport/in the snow.
What’s odd is that, watching it in 2017, it’s still charming but for entirely the opposite reason—because of its predictability and its whimsy and its familiarity.
In the same way teenagers now love Friends because it seems to represent a simpler time, Four Weddings and a Funeral feels essentially safe. The twentysomethings in this film all have lovely if cosy apartments in areas that look suspiciously like Notting Hill that would be unthinkable to rent in London now, they all own charming little cars and are generally quite happy—albeit going through a number of romantic crises that anyone beginning to think about settling down and marrying goes through. Theirs is a world where Princess Di is still a point of reference, and where nobody worries about the dangers of smoking heavily; where you could get a promotion without having to work through weekends and you literally couldn’t get emails at home.
Almost through no distinct quality of its own, then, Four Weddings and a Funeral has aged very well, and for people under 30 it plays the role of a constructed memory, of a time that we never really lived through but still have nostalgia for. It’s a little reminiscent of Reality Bites, which came out the same year, except the characters aren’t universally arseholes (the exception to this is Janeane Garofalo).
There are some weak points. Andie McDowell is simply not a very good actress, and Simon Callow is insufferably annoying and gauche in any scene he’s in—far from being the comic relief, he grates worse than anyone else. Hugh Grant also ends up with the wrong girl. But these are sort of minor complaints, 23 years later. What’s important is the essential character of the film, and the nostalgia it evokes—and in today’s climate, I can only see that increasing.