Saturday, July 30, 2011

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (Polygram 1994) MGM/Fox Home Video

Mike Newell’s Four Weddings and A Funeral (1994) is a daft and delightful English farce. The screenplay by Richard Curtis totters along its dotty trail of marital mishaps that can make weddings either a supremely joyous occasion or utterly kooky claptrap of romantic misfires. The film is an eighteen month slice of life in the ongoing folly of serial monogamist Charles (Hugh Grant). As a man in his early thirties Charles knows he's expected to marry. Yet, somehow he can never bring himself to the altar. His previous relationships have all been unqualified disasters. Having broken too many hearts along the way it stands to reason that Charles has set himself up to have his own broken. This, of course, does happen, but not without maturing the boy into a man, while promising him a reprieve – or more astutely – a tradeoff for his sacrifice of these youthful anxieties. On the surface, Four Weddings and A Funeral is just a jolly good romp through all the misshapen merriment. But beneath the surface there are clever observations about romance, love and loss sprinkled throughout Curtis’ screenplay; a bittersweet center of loneliness lingering even after our principals have presumably found ever-lasting love.  
Charles lives with his free spirited – also single - sister, Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) in a dingy London flat. The two are chronic procrastinators and prove it when they are almost late to the marriage of Angus (Timothy Walker) and Laura (Sara Crowe). Bad luck all around; Charles is Angus’ best man and he’s forgotten the rings! Never fear; with his menagerie of loyal friends including dimwitted millionaire, Tom (James Fleet), his cool – if abrupt - sister, Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) and gay couple Matthew (John Hannah) and Gareth (Simon Callow), the day, the hour and the moment are saved - barely.
At Angus and Laura's pastoral reception Charles meets American, Carrie (Andie McDowell). She’s experienced, witty, enjoys people and lives life to its fullest – all qualities that Charles finds engaging. After spending the night with Carrie at a quaint country inn Charles blows his opportunity to win her heart the next morning. Three months pass. Carrie and Charles are reunited at the wedding reception of Bernard (David Haig) and Lydia (Sophie Thompson). At first Charles believes he’s been given a second chance at love. But then Carrie reveals that she has become engaged to Hamish (Corin Redgrave); a much older, though wealthy Scottish businessman. Carrie further compounds Charles misery by dragging him to every bridal shop in London on her quest for the perfect wedding dress.
Only Charles' deaf brother, David (David Bower) sees through the rouse. David tells Charles that he must follow his heart before it’s too late. However, when one of Charles old flames – the mentally unstable - Deirdre (Susanna Hamnett) resurfaces, Charles decides to marry her instead. Two events intercede to save the day. The first is Carrie's marriage to Hamish that miserably fails almost from the moment the two say 'I do'. The second is the unexpected death of Gareth from a heart attack that forces Charles and all of his friends to consider the brevity of life and love, ergo - life without love is no life at all.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is inspired ensemble acting at its best. Its humor is as sparkling dry as vintage Riesling; its characters straight out of Emily Post's reject guidebook. Reportedly, director Newell auditioned many actors before deciding on Hugh Grant as his star. Grant, who had limited appeal in his native England was a virtual unknown to American audiences. This was his breakout. McDowell too was a last minute choice. A former model, Newell picked up McDowell’s option on the fly with only two weeks to go before principle photography commenced. The rest of the cast is a veritable who’s who of stellar British talent – many of whom have gone on to become celebrated in other intercontinental productions since.
MGM’s remastered Blu-ray is a welcomed surprise. The film was produced and released theatrically under the now defunct Polygram label. The original DVD from MGM was not anamorphic and contained an abnormal amount of ‘age related’ artifacts (dirt, scratches, etc.). MGM's deluxe edition reissue on DVD corrected almost all of the aforementioned shortcomings but still was far from a stellar presentation. MGM's Blu-ray is all the more impressive for having improved virtually all aspects of the image quality. Colors are more vibrantly reproduced this time around with more natural flesh tones. Fine details are nicely realized and contrast levels have been greatly improved. Film grain still exists but thanks to a 1080p mastering effort it now looks like grain instead of digitized grit. Overall, the image quality is quite smooth and pleasing. The audio has been remastered in TruHD 5.1. Although it won't win any awards it is adequate for this presentation.
Extras are rather disappointing. The informative audio commentary notwithstanding, the brief featurettes are all carryovers from MGM's 'Deluxe DVD'. They're haphazardly assembled from stock footage, big on conciliatory praise for the cast while practically nil’ on how and where the film was made. The quality of these featurettes has NOT been improved for this Blu-ray reissue. They're still in deplorable 480i. Also included is the film’s original theatrical trailer. Bottom line: Over a decade later and this comedy still holds up. For the badly needed image upgrade this disc comes recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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