Feb 10 2013 10:00am

Four Weddings and a Funeral: In Defense of Andie MacDowell

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.

The Everyman and the Beauty Queen!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!

And true love was born!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.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. DianeN
I get what you're saying, but have to slightly disagree. If you could go back in time to before you found out that all of Hugh Grant's cute mannerisms and charm in this movie were not so much acting as they were his own personal schtick, you could watch the movie with new eyes and fall for Charlie all over again. He was transparent in his adoration of Carrie, completely blown away by her--and isn't that something every woman secretly desires, particularly if it comes in an adorable floppy-haired package? It would all get old fairly quickly if he didn't find some way to be less tongue-tied and clumsy, of course, but for the duration of that 2 hour movie it was something that obviously resonated with many, many women who would still say it's one of their favorite rom coms even if they don't watch it again every six months. Had Andie had the slightest bit of personality the movie would have been darn near perfect.
2. SassyT
I don't know why everyone gives Andie McDowell such a hard time in this movie. She was only working with what the writers gave her. They pretty much made her character empty and ridiculous. Overall, I really love the movie though. And I'm sorry but Duck Face was not gorgeous. I was watching Pride & Prejudice today and all I could think everytime she was on the screen was "Hey, there's Duck Face."LOL I still love the movie for what it is: A funny movie about a group of friends that attend a different wedding (it seems like every weekend) and ridiculousness that ensues.
Rachel Hyland
3. RachelHyland
Am I the only one who has never hated Carrie? Oh, I thought the blow-by-blow (ha!) recounting of her conquests was unnecessary and cringe-worthy -- and basically only seemed to be there to make the point that, for all she didn't bother getting his number after the fact, Charlie still at least mildly rocked her world during their night together -- but I still had no objection to her as a character, or as the object of so much interest. It helps that she is incandescently beautiful with a particularly winning smile, and that her Southern-y accent is completely charming. She is a bit of a money-grubber, though... Shame on her for that wedding registry!

I concur on Charlie though, he's not that great a great catch, especially when it comes to his dress sense. The shorts/Hawaiian shirt/sensible shoes ensemble in the "I think I love you" scene is simply unforgivable.

Still, my favorite part of that movie is his awesome non-proposal at the end. Who cares about MacDowell's line delivery (it's not THAT bad) when you have this:
Do you think, after we've dried off, after we've spent lots more time together, you might agree... not to marry me? And do you think not being married to me might maybe be something you could consider doing for the rest of your life?
Aw. Now I need to go and watch it again IMMEDIATELY, just for that. And also Scarlett. Love Scarlett.
Post a comment