Amazingly, I had never seen this movie until last week. I do remember the fervor for it when it first opened in the US, which was a ludicrous 18 years ago, but I believe it actually predates my anglophilia, which is (approximately) circa 2001. I remember not wanting to see it because I really dislike Andie MacDowell (still do) and Hugh Grant wasn’t famous yet. Also, I was about 13 when this came out, so it was not on my top ten list. I remember the Lion King being more my speed at the time. Forrest Gump, if I was feeling philosophical, or not in the mood to weep over Mufasa’s terrible death scene.
I digress! The point is, I just missed out on this movie, and finally decided to get my shit together and watch it. Even despite Andie MacDowell, I really enjoyed it!
The plot mostly follows Charles (Hugh Grant), who is your typical Hugh Grant character, X 1000. He bumbles, he mumbles, he charms. He meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at the first wedding, and is smitten immediately.
In a way very reminiscent of Love Actually or Notting Hill, the film also focuses on Grant’s group of close and quirky friends. These include:
Kristin Scott Thomas as Fiona, a bit of an ice queen,
gay couple Gareth and Matthew,
the oddball female character, Scarlett (see Penny from Notting Hill)
and a few others on the fringe of the action. It’s a sense of an ensemble cast, which the British seem to do so well in film (and TV) without anyone feeling 1-dimensional or flat.
The plot is sort of the typical romantic comedy fare in the beginning–boy and girl meet, girl is taken, boy declares his love too late, girl changes her mind and they end up together. But it’s also very different.
Take Carrie, the female lead. At one point in the action she lists her thoughts on her 30+ sexual partners. Can you see Reese Witherspoon doing that in a modern RomCom and not being considered a slut? My favorite part of this is that she is not in any way ashamed or embarrassed of her list, and treats every one of the men as a learning experience, even if it wasn’t a pleasant sexual experience. Carrie is somewhat lacking in depth, as we usually only see her through Charles’ interactions with her. What we do see, though, is someone really confident, independent, and lacking regret. So I really like that, because fuck the typical women in these movies. They are terrible.
Also, how often does a RomCom focus on a male lead over the female? After all, if you live by the Sex and the City idea of life, women feel incomplete without a man, but men feel just fine regardless.
Two of the eponymous weddings are those of Charles and Carrie–to other people. That is a bit of a surprise; definitely not in the typical RomCom formula. Even more shocking, and perhaps my favorite part of the movie, is that the two declare their love at the end of the movie and then decide not to get married. Ever. In a movie so clearly focused on matrimony, the two couples who don’t get married–Charles and Carrie and Gareth and Matthew–are the most compelling in many ways.
These little moments and touches make me like this movie a lot more than I would if it was a typical RomCom. There’s something really refreshing about a love story that subverts your expectations, especially in a genre that so rigidly follows a very specific blueprint.
In fact, it’s almost like they are playing with those genre specifics, having multiple weddings and chances to enact the famous ‘If any person knows of any reason why these two should not be wed’ trope that happens in all of those movies. Having the female lead actually go through with marrying another man.
The movie takes place during big life events–weddings and funerals–but everything about the story relies on subtlety. Charles slowly makes the change from a ‘serial monogamist’ to ready to commit (in part because he loses hope in the idea of true love) to, by the end, a self-awareness that allows him to pursue a path that will truly make him happy.
In addition to what is a very adult version of a RomCom, the film is also moving (funeral scene made me weep) and alternately extremely funny. Highlights include Rowan Atkinson playing a bumbling Anglican priest, Hugh Grant’s speech as best man, the repeated scenes of Charles and flatmate Scarlett waking up very late for each of the four ceremonies, and Carrie going through her recount of bedfellows.
Another reason to watch is the ’90s fashion and the ludicrous hats the English wear to church. Why do they do this? Why do they still do this? I may have to do a future post about this millinery tradition.