Hulu's 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' Series Can't Find the Spirit of the Original Rom-Com
Mike Newell's 1994 British romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral is a film about a tight-knit group of somewhat childish friends who suddenly find everyone around them getting married, having children, and moving on with their lives. Chronically late Charles (Hugh Grant), flighty Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman), acid-tongued Fiona (Kristen Scott Thomas), kind-hearted Matthew (John Hannah), nervous Tom (James Fleet), and optimist Gareth (Simon Callow) are like the cool kids in the back of the class cracking jokes and playfully judging everyone. As a group, they are able to remain in a communal state of arrested development. But as our heroes drift from wedding to wedding to funeral, they find themselves growing, often against their will.
Newell's film excels at effortlessly portraying friendship with meaningful looks, nods, smiles and inside jokes. With these small touches, we immediately believe Charles and his friends are close without them having to explicitly declare it. Screenwriter Richard Curtis excels at depicting the small comedies of weddings, from confrontational seating arrangements to surprising private hookups. There is a strong sense of community across the weddings and funeral, populated by a talented, funny cast where every bit player is able to get their moment. By the time the credits role, it feels like you've watched a concise, satisfying season of television. With its witty, timeless banter and genuine performances, Four Weddings and a Funeral still stands as one of the best romantic comedies of all time.
It's no surprise then that co-creators Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton would reboot the film as a 10-episode miniseries for Hulu, reintroducing the story to a new audience, providing ample time with each character outside of the confines of a feature film. It's a concept that sounds great on paper, and with the right actors and storylines, it could easily recapture the magic of the original.
However, in practice, what they came up with was a reboot that strains to accomplish its tone. On one side, it's a show about privileged, bratty millennials confronted with the end of their stymied selves and the beginning of adulthood. The show achieves this by constantly portraying its main characters as the butt of a joke, with every side character having a firmer grasp on reality than they do. On the other, it's a show about recognizing real love, and coming together to build relationships that will last. In her rom-com series The Mindy Project and her recent screenwriting debut Late Night, Kaling has cemented a theme for her work: Self-absorbed, well-off people need love too. But the friend group in Four Weddings is comprised almost entirely of narcissists, which makes their love stories much less compelling than they ought to be.
Best friends Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel), Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse), and Duffy (John Paul Reynolds) are at a standstill in their emotional, professional and romantic lives. Maya is in a doomed relationship with a married man (Tommy Dewey) who is also her boss. Ainsley has been living on her parent's dime, fluttering about her life as if it's a fairytale. Duffy teaches Latin haplessly at a prep school while trying to get his novel published and pining for Maya. The only person in the friend group who seems to have any idea what he's doing is Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith), a likeable finance bro who is in love for the first time in his life. Craig has his own issues, but he's noticeably more sensible and financially secure than nearly all his close friends. His relationship with live-in girlfriend Zara (Sophia La Porta) is sweet, with an effortless chemistry that injects the often sour show with much-needed pathos. Then there's Kash (Nikesh Patel), an aspiring actor plagued with romantic indecisiveness. Rounding out the main cast are married socialites Gemma (Zoe Boyle) and Quentin (Tom Mison). With their poshness and British chilliness, they are the only characters who could have easily fit in the original film. Most of the core cast is populated by Americans living in London, which unfortunately takes away from the regional specificity of the humor.
Outside those two couples, the romantic pairings in Four Weddings and a Funeral feel painfully random. In a long-running sitcom, it makes sense to have a few duds, but within a miniseries, every character should have a thematic purpose. By spreading the weddings and one funeral out through 12 episodes, the show is forced to linger on these lackluster pairings while biding its time for the inevitable big finale. In the seven episodes screened for critics, Four Weddings and a Funeral has two weddings and one funeral. The funeral is one of the show's best sequences, properly joining the show's sweet and sour elements for a bittersweet cryfest that ultimately sticks the landing. It's so good that it makes you wish the rest of the show earned that perfect marriage of tone.
The 1994 film knew that its characters were more important than the weddings themselves, often making them the background of the conflict. In the series both weddings are enormous, try-hard affairs that underline the prolonged adolescence of the characters. Instead of having the weddings feature mutual friends outside of the main group, Four Weddings shrinks its world, making both nuptials involve principal characters. This leaves less room in the show for the communal bonding afforded to people simply enjoying a wedding. It was in those moments that film pushed its characters to grow in the background of events centered on other people. With a show full of narcissists, scenes like that have the potential to play even better by underlining their selfishness in a public space.
Hulu's Four Weddings and a Funeral is a product of its time: preoccupied with nostalgia for '90s films without an understanding of why they worked so well in the first place. The contemporary romantic comedy often carries the upper middle class, fashion conscious, status-obsessed sheen of 2000s rom-coms. These offerings vary wildly from the existential rom-coms that sprang up in the early '90s. 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral is a rom-com that questions the nature of life itself and how people decide who to spend it with. Across several episodes, 2019's Four Weddings and Funeral doesn't take enough time to ponder this question.