No film has since managed to package up and sell Englishness quite as effectively as “Four Weddings and a Funeral” did when it burst through like a top-hatted, profanity-laden breath of fresh air to rake in a cool quarter billion at the box office, on a four million dollar budget. A certain kind of British comedy has arguably struggled to move out of its shadow since (as has the career of Hugh Grant), and writer Richard Curtis has spent nigh-on two decades re-packaging the same formula with a decidedly mixed degree of success. It’s probably de rigueur to hate on the film if you’re British, by virtue of its depiction of a Britain that never really existed, and the hordes of tourists who come to London expecting to see Lord and Lady Burlington hobnobbing with Hugh Grant on every corner, but its charm is irresistible and remains largely undimmed twenty years later. Proceedings are aided to no end by the assemblage of high-calibre British talent (including Rowan Atkinson, the late Charlotte Coleman, Kristin Scott-Thomas, David Haig, John Hannah, James Fleet and a brilliantly boisterous Simon Callow) and a script bursting with pithy lines. It also features the finest use of a poem in many a year, with a right-on-the-money rendition of W.H. Auden’s famous and sombre elegy to a lost lover, “Stop All the Clocks.” But “Four Weddings” is a celebration of adult friendships more than weddings, and as festooned as it is with vows and ring-swapping and floppy hats, it’s the witty and charming gang of friends that provide the film with its true and enduring heart.
Last summer, when “That’s My Boy,” a $70 million(!) box office flop was released to typically scathing reviews for an Adam Sandler joint, fellow Playlist writer Gabe Toro quite wonderfully described it, in an aborted podcast segment, as having “a beginning, middle and end so technically it’s a movie” before he went on to completely rip it to shreds. He was not alone in wondering what has happened to the Sandler brand of late. There’s a good number of us on staff who remember fondly the glory days of one Adam Sandler, when he wrote and starred in comedies -- “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” some of “The Waterboy” -- that were actually, you know, funny. “The Wedding Singer” was another feather in his cap during the heyday. Though this charmer with a nostalgic heart for the ‘80s is good fun, and, for a certain generation, most likely a movie you saw in between high school make out sessions in your friend’s basement, it’s by no means a classic. Drew Barrymore and Sandler play off each other well (Sandler’s buffoonish ease on camera fits naturally with Barrymore’s adorable sweetheartedness), and you want to see them get together in the end. But like most modern romantic comedies, there’s never even an inkling of doubt that Barrymore will choose Sandler in the end. The cardinal sin of these movies is when the love triangle is skewed too heavily on one side, one guy’s an obvious douche while the other is the heaven-sent nice guy. Sadly, that applies to “The Wedding Singer” all too closely. But its most annoying sin is its take on the era in which it is set. Yes, in the ‘80s people dressed funny, listened to mostly bad pop music, and had ridiculous poofy hair styles. But is that really what it is like to live in that time? “The Wedding Singer,” with its steady stream of easy jokes aimed at Michael Jackson, “Miami Vice,” Boy George and A Flock of Seagulls, to name but a few, would have you think that, yes, this is what it was like then. But maybe it’s too much to ask of a broad, mostly enjoyable Sandler vehicle that ultimately wins the audience over with its performances and cameos (Billy Idol and Steve Buscemi make memorable appearances), and successfully introduced audiences to the idea of Sandler as a romantic lead.
“After the Wedding” (2006)
“After the Wedding,” starring the eternally awesome Mads Mikkelsen in one of his best performances, is perhaps one of Susanne Bier's best films to date. Shrek once described ogres as having layers like an onion. Well, that’s as apt a description for ‘Wedding’ as anything. The layers continue to peel back with every turn of the narrative in this riveting, bold film about Mikkelsen’s saintly humanitarian character going to the wedding of a very rich man’s daughter for unknown reasons. Even when things get really melodramatic, it never goes off the rails, thanks in large part to the performances from the stellar cast. Again, it's a standout film for Bier, and after the froth of "Love Is All You Need," we hope she has something similarly powerful up her sleeve for "Serena" with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
Emir Kusturica is the best kind of director. Clearly in a lifelong love affair with cinema and seemingly incapable of making his films anything less than awesome, with a batshit energy that never quits no matter how long the run time. If you’ve yet to dip your toes in Kustirica’s cinematic swimming pool, “Black Cat, White Cat” -- with its wonderfully, hilariously over-complicated plot involving gangsters, a bizarre love triangle and forced wedding, and a riotous gypsy band that seems to be everywhere at once -- is a great place to start. You’ll either go with the film or not, but we guarantee you’ll be overwhelmed no matter what. As if it were a shark that would die if it stopped swimming, Kusturica’s film is constantly in motion. It never lets up. If a plot rundown is important to you, then we advise you just check out the film’s Wikipedia page, cuz this entry would be novella-length if we tried to distill the narrative and its various sub plots down to a coherent description. Kusturica also acts from time to time, but in our opinion he’s at his best when behind the camera making these glorious, bizarre and idiosyncratic comedies (also recommended: “Underground”), with enough blood blasting through their veins to supply a hospital for years. “Black Cat, White Cat” is alive in ways most movies just can’t be bothered to be.