Four Weddings and a Funeral is widely considered one of the classic romantic comedies of the 1990s. It’s also considered a movie that works in spite of, rather than because of, its leading lady’s charms. Fans and critics far and wide have swooned over Hugh Grant’s sweet, bumbling Charlie while expressing , let us say, a certain disdain for Andie MacDowell’s wooden and largely personality-free Carrie. Many if not most viewers have remarked upon the apparent lack of chemistry between the two leads, a shortcoming that is, all too often, laid directly at MacDowell’s slender feet.
You know what, though? The conventional wisdom is kind of unfair. Oh, no one is claiming that MacDowell delivers anything close to an award-winning performance. “Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed” surely ranks among the most cringe-worthy line readings ever. MacDowell’s performance is definitely A Problem. But it’s not the only problem with the movie, or even the worst problem. To the extent that the Carrie/Charlie romance falls short, it’s not totally Carrie’s fault. In fact, I would argue that the fandom’s beloved Charlie shares equally in the blame.
First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that the script itself does MacDowell no favors whatsoever. Over the course of a two-hour movie, we learn basically nothing about Carrie other than that she’s a) American, b) a fashionista, and c) oh, so very sex-positive. She seduces Charlie on approximately three minutes’ acquaintance, and the only conversation of any substance we witness between the two of them largely revolves around her Number. I mean, rock on with your sexually-experienced self, girlfriend…but shouldn’t there be more to the character than a colorful sexual history? If there is, we don’t see it, and that’s hardly MacDowell’s fault.
Which brings us to Charlie. If Carrie is intended to be seen as a beautiful, mysterious sex goddess, Charlie is Everyman, a somewhat clumsy, frequently tongue-tied everyday sort about whom, like Carrie, we learn relatively little. We know that he’s blessed with family and close friends, and that while he’s reasonably attractive he’s not rocking Somerhalderesque levels of hotness. He vaguely alludes to a job at one point, but given his penchant for oversleeping and the fact that he’s still sharing a flat with the irrepressible, rubber-loving Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman), he probably isn’t any sort of high roller. Although he certainly does clean up nicely, when he’s not attending a wedding (or a funeral) he dresses like a beach bum. Furthermore, he trash talks his exes to his friends and to one another: “Vomiting Veronica”? “Miss Piggy and her mother, Mrs. Piggy”? Seriously, Charlie?
And yet, the script would have us believe that no fewer than three beautiful, sophisticated women are madly in love with this poorly dressed, trash-talking, underemployed, height-challenged charmer, all at the same time. Dry-witted, aristocratic Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) has evidently suffered unrequited love for the man for years. Cool, gorgeous Henrietta (Anna Chancellor), who could walk into any room in Britain, point to any man she chose and say “That one” and not walk away disappointed, makes it as far as the altar (but no farther) with him. And, of course, jet-setting, fashionable Carrie finally lands him.
Wow. One would almost think that a man wrote this thing.
Fortunately, the couples on orbit around Charlie and his harem compensate for this problem even as they highlight it. First and foremost, of course, we have Gareth and Matthew. Long before Qhuinn and Blaylock were unleashed upon an undeserving world, Simon Callow and John Hannah were conveying more honest emotion in a glance than Carrie and Charlie manage in their entire screen time together. And that funeral oration — ! Sob!
Then there’s David (David Bower) and Serena (Robin McCaffrey). David is, of course, Deaf. Serena catches sight of him at a wedding and likes what she sees, so what does she do? She awesomely goes right out and learns sign language so she can communicate with him. The next time they meet, she’s ready, and even though she makes tols of nistakes, David is smitten…as well he should be. Awkward aristocrat Tom (James Fleet) ends up with sweet Deirdre (Susanna Hamnett), who is a distant cousin, suggesting a similarity of background and experience on which to base their relationship. Even Bernard and Lydia (David Haig and Sophie Thompson) from Wedding #2 are portrayed as friends who just happen to share an explosive sex drive. I’m at a bit of a loss to explain Scarlett and Chester (Randall Paul), but they’re so cute together I’m inclined to give them a pass.
Again, Andie MacDowell isn’t very good in Four Weddings and a Funeral. In fact, she’s pretty bad. But if we’re going to mock her performance, we also need to recognize that in writing her as a classic male wish-fulfillment fantasy, writer Richard Curtis and director Mike Newell set her up to fail, and we shouldn’t be surprised or snarky because she does exactly that. And we shouldn’t fail to notice that no matter how charmingly self-effacing Charlie is, objectively speaking he’s not that great of a catch himself. People wonder how a unidimensional paper doll like Carrie ended up with a prize like Charlie. The real question may be why she ever looked at him twice to begin with.
Kate Nagy is Editor at Large of Geek Speak Magazine.