Hulu’s ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ Stumbles Down the Remake Aisle
Imagine a romantic comedy that takes itself so pompously serious that it is unaware of what it is. That’s the feeling you get while watching season one of Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” It’s a series of many lovable actors displaying their chops with a charmless script, which is a pity since the source material is itself a classic example of enjoyable, feel-good romance. 1994’s movie of the same name, directed by Mike Newell, followed a pack of love sick friends through the trials and tribulations of the heart using big laughs and entertaining, heart-tugging moments. Reimagined and stretched out into a show, it doesn’t know where to go.
This time around our main character is Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel), who runs communications for the senate campaign of Ted (Tommy Dewey). She also happens to be his mistress, fooling herself with his endless promises to eventually tell his wife. Maya leaves for a quick trip to London to celebrate the 30th birthday of one of her college friends, Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse). On the way she loses her luggage and meets a handsome Pakistani-British investment banker named Kash (Nikesh Patel). They hit it off, with Maya somehow finding time to explain to Kash the virtues of “Mamma Mia.” But alas, it turns out Kash is actually Ainsley’s boyfriend! No matter, Ted will leave his wife soon, or so Maya hopes. Other characters in this play of hearts include Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith), who is with Zara (Sophia La Porta), but receives Facebook messages informing him he might be the father of another woman’s child. In the corner stands Duffy (John Reynolds), a penniless writer who has been pining for Maya for over a decade.
Put aside the original movie, this is a complete reinvention of its premise. Its showrunner roster is no joke. Creators Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton helmed the far superior “The Mindy Project” and also doing producing duties here is Richard Curtis, who penned the 1994 film and is a poet of corniness with titles like “Love Actually” and “About Time” to his credit. But this team’s rom-com abilities went dormant for “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” which from the first episode lacks the exuberance, popping colors and self-awareness required for this material. It’s one refreshing quality is seeing Emmanuel, known to millions as the ill-fated Missandei in “Game of Thrones,” leave the world of dragons for something more down to earth. She has the charm for wistful romance but isn’t given any lively words or feverish melodrama to work with. This is a woman having an affair with a would-be senator and yet the best meet-cute the writers devise for her and Kash uses “Mamma Mia?” It’s 10 episodes and 7 have been made available for review, at least the first 4 can feel like slogs. Instead of hurtling the story forward with entertaining developments or passionate TV romance, there is the constant feeling that nothing is really happening. The jokes tend to fall flat, in particular bland attempts to sound extra PC, and major personal challenges like Craig finding out he might be a dad lack urgency. He just takes Maya to a park, stares at the girl who might be his and never seems to have heard of paternity tests.
From “Meet Joe Black” to “Along Came Polly,” popcorn movie romances depend on the chemistry and sparks of two potential lovers meeting. In this version of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” not a single chapter convinces us anyone in this world belongs together. It’s not because we don’t have Hugh Grant and Charlotte Coleman this time around, it’s all in the writing and execution. Kash gets cold feet at his wedding and can’t explain why. Part of it is that deep down he actually wants to be an actor and has decided to pursue the dream, but the other angle is that he couldn’t get over that initial encounter with Maya at the airport. Yet there’s just no conviction, he might as well just be a playboy. Inevitably side characters become more engaging, like Gemma (Zoe Boyle), a snobby British elite who looks down on Maya until a sudden death humbles her terribly. Alex Jennings of “The Crown” delivers one of the series’ most convincing characters, a right-wing MP Maya begins to work for as a speechwriter. A storyline involving Kash and his elderly father also has much more pathos than any of the love stories.
Good melodrama and romantic comedies work because they are aware of their own exaggerated nature, which is what makes them fun and for certain viewers moving. They provide grander versions of people’s desires for love, drama and spice. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” keeps the elements of a rom-com but tries to pull them off with a straight face. Irony is lacking, characters utter absurd dialogue as if they were in a metaphysical play about life. For example Duffy is meant to be the classic, nerdy underdog who secretly loves Maya. But he’s played so low-key by John Reynolds that he simply comes off as strange and pitiful, inspiring little to cheer for. He can’t actually articulate why he even cares so much for Maya, it’s been 10 years since college and she barely acknowledges his existence. When he connects with a fellow bookish type later in the series we can only hope he never obsesses over Maya again. There’s just no point. The same goes for Maya’s affair with the senator. She’s written as someone who isn’t doing it for the access to power, but Ted is so bland and brief it’s another case of wondering what all the fuss was about.
It’s possible this is just a case of a property that was popular in the 90s and someone decided a series made sense. This is probably why it feels so streamlined and uninspired. Fans of the original can cheer that Andie MacDowell is given a small role and this new version does also keep alive the movie’s daring in being diverse in using LGBTQ characters as part of its triangle of interwoven lives. But a true spirit of feeling like you’re in the inner circle of friends is missing. We get what the title promises, four weddings and an emotive funeral, but the walk down the aisle feels like a forced marriage lacking even a decent after party.
“Four Weddings and a Funeral” season one episodes 1-4 begin streaming July 31 on Hulu with new episodes airing every Wednesday.