Four Weddings and a Funeral was a 1994 romantic comedy film directed by Mike Newell, written by Richard Curtis and starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell. This is a review of the 2019 Hulu miniseries created by Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton which reimagined that film. Richard Curtis was one of the executive producers on the miniseries and Andie MacDowell appeared in the show, so the Hulu version has the blessings of the original creators. While the miniseries is an homage to the original film and Richard Curtis’ other romantic comedies, it’s not a direct retelling.
Four Weddings and a Funeral: The Miniseries is its own original creative entity which uses the framework established in the movie of a group of college friends who meet up again in London over a period of years at, yes, four weddings and one funeral, to tell its story. But the story it tells is more of an updated Jane Austen mash up than a new Richard Curtis film. It’s sort of Bridget Jones Diary and Clueless meet Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually.
If you loved Richard Curtis’ films with Hugh Grant and see them as sacred canon which shouldn’t be touched, this might not be the show for you. You might like this show if you love Mindy Kaling’s brand of snappy humor; updated Jane Austen stories; witty dialogue between characters of a variety of ages, races, body types, sexual orientations, genders and social classes; explorations of when it’s okay to hurt someone you love in order to make yourself and/or someone else you love happy; and characters searching for meaning in their professional and love lives.
I confess, Jane Austen and Mindy Kaling are both goddesses to me and so far I haven’t found a version of either that I don’t like. On the other hand, I find Richard Curtis only mildly entertaining while conceding that he’s written some memorable scenes and lines. I’d also like to thank Curtis for bringing Andrew Lincoln to everyone’s attention in Love Actually so that he could eventually star in The Walking Dead.
But Four Weddings and a Funeral: The Original Film is so unmemorable to me that I still can’t remember much about it, despite a recent rewatch and several viewings over the years. As with so many 90s and 00s romcoms, there’s little depth to the characters and the sexism is palpable. But that’s another essay. Romcoms have begun to improve again in the last few years, mostly on TV in its various forms, so let’s focus on that.
As mentioned, Four Weddings and a Funeral (Hulu version) is the story of a core group of four college friends who spent a semester together in London. Three of them, sporty and charming investment banker Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith), awkward and introverted Latin teacher/aspiring writer Duffy (John Reynolds) and vivacious, funny interior designer Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse) moved back to London together after graduation. The fourth, perceptive, introspective Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel) stayed in Manhattan and became a speechwriter for New York politician Ted (Tommy Dewey), who is now running for the US senate. He’s also a married man with whom Maya has been having an affair for years.
The story begins when Maya travels to London to celebrate Ainsley’s 30th birthday. At the airport, she accidentally meets Ainsley’s boyfriend, Kash (Nikesh Patel), an investment banker who wants to be an actor and works with Craig. Thanks to Kash’s adorably meddling father, Haroon (Harish Patel), who works at the airport, Kash is enlisted to help Maya find her lost luggage. They end up bonding over Youtubes of Mamma Mia!, the musical, a signal that while this story may not be a true musical, we’re still heading into the romcom version of Magical Realism. (A form of heightened reality where lovers can make it across the Atlantic in a few short hours and a bikini paired with a hip length faux fur are enough to keep you warm at a ski resort.)
Since real life frequently seems to forget the rules we’re taught as children, I have no problem with magically blurred lines in fiction, whether it’s the ridiculous stunts the characters survive unscathed in a violent action scene or the beautiful soft focus on life we sometimes get in a romance. Besides its charming stories, Four Weddings and a Funeral is a sumptuous visual and aural feast, exploring the cultures of its characters without being self-congratulatory about it and making the most of its various settings, from London to New Jersey.
For those of you reading this who are housebound in 2020, or maybe even beyond, this is one of my favorite types of shows, one which lets you feel like you’ve visited the location with the characters, but doesn’t feel like a travel documentary. The striking visual palette pops, the music is varied but fits in each scene and the characters are vibrant members of their communities.
We walk the city streets with them and get to know their circle of friends and acquaintances outside of the core group, showing the rich urban life many of us are currently missing. If you are in the area and want to make your own Four Weddings Walking Tour, there are more details on specific London filming locations HERE.
But back to the story summary! Kash and Maya spend a little time together in the lost luggage racks and find they are both lost souls. They think they’ll never see each other again, then discover later at the party that he’s involved with her best friend. Of course they don’t tell Ainsley that they met earlier that day at the airport, even though Maya gushed over “airport guy” to her friend.
The other thing that Mamma Mia! signals? True Love can take some time, and many missteps, to work out. It’s tough out there for a woman (and sometimes a man) who wants to keep her own identity in the face of love and family and career and the expectations that come with all three.
Meanwhile, Craig and his girlfriend Zara (Sophia La Porta) are living together but have hilarious difficulties in communication. Craig has a big secret, which he tells Maya before he tells Zara, leading Zara to move out and explore her other options. I don’t want to spoil what Zara does, because it’s so much fun to find out with the characters, but for several episodes it becomes a running thing that everyone is caught up in.
Duffy teaches at an all boys school and lives in a dorm room at the school, which makes him seem like a loser, but by the end of the season I think he might actually be the character who’s dated the most people. He’s open hearted but hopelessly obsessive, which is good for a novelist, but can get in the way of real life. Sometimes I think all serious writers need to hire full time caretakers who will navigate the necessities of life for them while the writers get on with their masterpieces. Duffy begins the season with a long term, long distance crush on Maya which has never gone anywhere. He’s determined to change that when she moves to London.
Ainsley is a spoiled, rich girl from Texas who still mostly lives off her parents’ money. Kash seems like the perfect man to slot into the handsome, rich husband position she needs to fill in order to have pseudo independence from her parents but perpetually maintain her lifestyle. Kash also sees Ainsley the same way, in reverse, as a woman who helps him be the man he’s trying to be. They are both playing out the roles they were raised to fulfill. Their story is an anti-romance, as they need to deconstruct their preconceived ideas about themselves and each other before they can see each other clearly.
Ainsley’s London best friend is Gemma (Zoe Boyle), a traditional upper class British woman who’s married to Quentin (Tom Mison), her alcoholic counterpart. They are quietly happy and devoted to one another and their son, Giles. Gemma is a tad brittle and competitive with Maya, but she makes up for it with her wicked sense of humor and insights into human nature.
Ainsley’s employee Tony 2 (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) has a romance with an older man played by Alex Jennings, which brings some topical social commentary into the show. The ultimate fate of their romance is left to be resolved at a later date.
Other standouts in the cast are Guz Khan as Basheer, Jamie Demetriou as Marcus, Rakhee Thakrar as Fatima, Krrish Patel as Asif Khan, Shobu Kapoor as Nani, Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Tabby, Richard Fleeshman as Garrett and Dermot Mulroney as Bryce Dylan.
By the end of season 1, years have passed. All four weddings and a funeral have occurred. Friendships and romances have begun, been broken, shuffled and occasionally repaired. Life goes on and it’s easy to see the potential for another round of weddings and funerals in season 2, should it happen. If it does, I’ll be there.
Spoilery Discussion– Do Not Read Until You’ve Watched the Entire Season!!
Ainsley is a great character in many ways, but the way Craig and Duffy choose her over Maya every time, when it’s clear they’re emotionally closer to Maya, even if they’re geographically closer to Ainsley, is obnoxious. On the other hand, I love the way Ainsley’s sense of humor grows more and more tart as she begins to let herself feel her resentments and then eventually comes into her own.
I love that she finally accepts who she is and chooses a man who’s more of what her parents would choose for her than Kash, instead of less. No one would criticize Bash and Fatima for ending up together, so why should Ainsley feel bad for being what she is and being comfortable with someone who makes her feel at home?
Maya and Kash are presented as searchers from the beginning, who both want something different from the mainstream lifestyle of the communities they were raised in. Kash, at least, has learned to accept his restless soul and others’ more traditional needs.
I’m not so sure that Maya has found her direction yet, but I like that she brought Marcus along to NYC to tell her the truth. She needs someone who’ll be reasonably loyal to her, since the rest of her friends have made it clear that she’s last in line in a dispute and she’s been unlucky in love so far. She and Kash’s careers are still at odds, so there’s no guarantee they’ll work things out anytime soon.
I like Gemma and Duffy together and was glad to see Gemma and Giles find some happiness again. But, after watching Tom Mison die approximately 10,000 times in HBO’s Watchmen, I’m traumatized by watching him perish and leave a family behind. I never, ever want to go through losing him in anything else. He’s not even allowed to look sickly. Only robust, healthy looking Tom Mison characters for the foreseeable future, please! And keep Jeremy Irons far away from him at all times.
Gemma and Giles did put on a truly awesome funeral for him, though. A+.
Part of the fun of this show is in the sheer variety of characters. I doubt it’ll get a season two at this point, but I dream of some of the featured characters getting a chance to be main characters. I want to see Nani, Haroon and Asif’s arranged romances. Asif is a star in the making with a famous brother- his family is going to have trouble keeping the girls away. Marcus’ would have many hilarious failures at dating in Manhattan until he finds that one perfect woman who’s the exact opposite of who he thought he’d fall for. (It has to be a guest appearance by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.) I want to see Tony 2 and Andrew’s huge multicultural wedding and the unexpected romances that come out of those interactions.
I need to see the Love Chalet Reunion Special, where Zara gets to win the night by showing off her beautiful family, while her huge friend group cheers her on at home. Even if we don’t get a full season 2, we deserve more Love Chalet!
And we definitely need to find someone for Julia (Ashley Madekwe). I’m thinking Garrett could be an excellent boytoy while she’s looking for someone serious.
Image courtesy of Hulu.