This is a very traditional romantic comedy in the British mode with an untraditional message. It is a fun, funny and poignant film with great style that introduced American audiences to Hugh Grant, Simon Callow, Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas and John Hannah… at least in memorable roles in a popular movie.
There are several plot threads in the story. The main plot involves Charles (Grant) and his on-again/off-again affair with Carrie (Andie MacDowell), an American that he meets at wedding #1.
Other plots involve the hitching of Tom (James Fleet) and his cousin Deirdre, two aristos who are both socially awkward; the hitching of my favorite character Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) and Chester, another American; the love affair of Gareth (Callow) and Matthew (Hannah), which ends in the single funeral, which is one of the most moving scenes in the picture, due to Hannah’s performance.
Mostly this is “winsome,” as one critic stated. Or, to employ sort-of synonyms, charming, delightful, clever and ticklish. It plays with the stereotypes of British aristocracy: awkward, reserved, clannish, inarticulate and gives them a smart;y sharp twist to reveal a group of friends who are going through one of the last of the growing-up rituals: marriage and death.
After all, you see, it is about growing up. About a group of friends–Charles, Scarlett, Tom, Gareth and Fiona–who are meeting their future mates and bringing them into the inner circle, while watching other friends (not quite inside the circle) get hitched and move away, into the adult pre-occupations of marriage, homemaking, pregnancy and raising children. Even death. In the end, each “friend” has to deal with moving into this adult world, finding his or her own way.
And (spoiler!) the “conventional” characters are boring.
Charles (Grant) and Carrie are the last. Carrie marries the Wrong Man first, someone too old, too settled and stable, too conventional. Charles is confronted by former girlfriends who indict him as a serial commitment-phobe, a Dater who breaks up when things get serious. Charles finally “commits” to marrying the Wrong Woman, and must, to right this bad choice, find his own way to commitment, a way that suits both him and Carrie.
Underneath, this film suggests there are a variety of ways to Happy Coupledom. Even perhaps that “marriage” is a flexible term between two people. (Suggesting gay marriage this early? Yes.)
It is a loving look at the scary reality of adult relationships, ones that require commitment of the long-term kind (including parenthood).