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Movies to watch in quarantine: ‘Extraction,’ ‘The Master,’ ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’

This week, Mark York and Nitish Vaidyanathan review ‘Extraction,’ ‘The Master’ and ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’

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Recommend movies for us to watch using this form, which is also embedded at the bottom of our article.

Intro:

Hi! We’re Mark and Nitish, and we (like most of you we hope) are practicing social distancing to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. We recognize that this is a super stressful time for a lot of people, and that many of you are being harmed by the virus in one way or another. So, we thought we’d do something that would hopefully lighten the mood. We are going to be watching and reviewing movies available on streaming platforms. Our column will be published (roughly) every week on Wednesdays. We hope that you can watch along, send us your thoughts and recommend movies that you like or want us to watch. Best of luck to all of you in these trying times!

(Photo: Netflix)

Extraction” (Released in 2020; watched by us on August 3, 2020)

An action film by Sam Hargrave. We watched it on Netflix!

Mark:

Once again, dear reader, I make it clear that I am very fun at parties. For today, we have watched “Extraction” — a fun and dumb action movie, which I absolutely hated. 

In Bangladesh, Ovi, the son of a notorious and imprisoned drug lord, is kidnapped by a rival drug lord. So, a black-market mercenary named Tyler Rake, played by Chris Hemsworth, is hired to bring the boy out of the country. Ovi’s family, on the other hand, refuses to pay the mercenaries, and they seek to claim the boy for themselves. Anyone can probably assume what happens next: Rake grows a fatherly bond with Ovi, we find out more about Rake’s plain-as-mayonnaise backstory (try to guess what it is — I am willing to bet your first guess is right) and a lot of gunfights ensue. 

Read the premise, dear reader — look at the poster. You do not need me to tell you the kind of movie “Extraction” is. It is an action film from head to toe. There are no deeper themes to explore, no interesting characters to familiarise yourself with. You come to the cinema — or, since this is Netflix, the bedroom — to see a bunch of fight scenes, and everything else is just fluff. Even the plot itself is a game piece to get to the good stuff. It is the very definition of a background movie — and I mean that literally. This reminds me of those times when you watch an animated show, and a character is watching an action movie on their TV while plot happens — the movie itself is not the focus of the scene, so the animators simply plaster a few generic images, and maybe write a few over-the-top lines, to merely express that it is an action movie. 

And that is perfectly fine — it is just not my thing. At all. And it makes for a boring article. 

I fear I come across as snobbish or pretentious when I talk about movies like these. I feel like the snob who attends a superbowl watch party, and constantly reminds everyone that he is only there to watch the ads. But, my gripes here are very similar to my complaints about some horror movies. I enjoy stories and I enjoy characters — at the very least, I like interesting filmmaking. Action movies can be great when they act as a catalyst for these three things, but I struggle to get the point of movies like this, where the action genre seems to only exist for the sake of itself. 

The lead is a perfect example of my complaints. Chris Hemsworth is the selling point of this movie, and he is purely a selling point. It doesn’t matter who plays the role of Tyler Rake because there is hardly a character to be played — there is nothing particularly unique or enthralling about his dialogue, nor does he have any stand-out mannerisms to set him apart. Sure, there is that white bread backstory, which he has to look forlorn about — and maybe he has to give a few longing looks at the movie’s escort, Ovi — but this is all side dressing. All Hemsworth has to do is hold a gun, have muscles and look cool. Anybody can do this… well, anybody with muscles, I guess. 

Ovi, too, does not give me much reason to personally want him to remain rescued. The boy could have been replaced with a paperweight, or a balloon with a face on it, and the movie would feel relatively unchanged. 

But, there is Saju Rav — a sort of antagonist in this movie who works for Ovi’s father. He is also tasked with delivering Ovi back to his oppressive household, while betraying the mercenaries to save the organization some money. He does this because his family is being threatened. There is some potentially interesting nuance with his character to explore, and it is fitting that his scenes are the only ones that really caught my interest. But even then, this isn’t new. And even then, “Extraction” as a whole typically ignores him. 

Apparently, this is the most watched original Netflix movie in the history of the platform. That’s fine, I suppose. And apparently, a sequel is in the works. I don’t know how this story could feasibly be continued — you can only make the same generic action movie so many times with the same brand, and I would worry that the two movies would literally bleed into each other. But that, too, is fine. I’ve seen worse films than this. But I’ve certainly seen more interesting ones too.

Nitish:

I have made no secret of the fact that I am an action movie junkie. So, I loved this movie. It’s not the best fight choreography that I’ve seen in recent American action (Hemsworth frequently throws leg kicks that wouldn’t knock over a reasonably sturdy toddler), nor is it the best direction (“Atomic Blonde”’s David Leitch takes that prize). But to me, it’s evidence of the fact that the American action movie genre is moving in the right direction as a whole. 

The low point of American action movies was undoubtedly “Taken 3,” where even the most simple shots were cut so thoroughly that trying to make sense of basic human movement was as difficult as trying to reconstruct a crime scene that happened in the fourth century using a broken pair of scissors and an old toothbrush. But after (roughly) “John Wick,” things started to change. We started to get long takes! Takes that showed that we didn’t have aging actors weakly throwing themselves into frame in order to grab an easy paycheck, but that we instead had a dedicated stunt team and an intelligent choreographer. We started to get stuff that had the coherence, creativity and combat of Hong Kong action, or even maybe (gasps) Indonesian action. 

Sam Hargrave’s “Extraction” isn’t pushing the envelope in Western action movies, but it is definitely evidence of an upward trend in the technical competency of the genre. There are some tasty long-takes, even some really clean one-take fight scenes. I think that Hemsworth generally does a worse job of selling some of the action scenes than some of his contemporaries like Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, the fact that Hemsworth looks like he could bench press a reasonably sized minivan filled with adults is probably enough to cover up for his relative lack of fighting acumen. And to be clear, I think he’s selling all of the action scenes pretty well. I’m not expecting him to sell them as well as, say, Tom Cruise, who will straight up jump out of an airplane in order to sell a shot. So accounting for the fact that Hemsworth isn’t insane, I’d say that this is a good to strong showing. I think this is maybe 75th percentile Western action, and we should all be grateful because this is indicative of a massive step up from the days in which Liam Neeson movies were considered good. 

So that’s my shtick. Every criticism that Mark has about the movie is fair (I will never write that again), but if you’re an action fan who is fine with watching things blow up for an hour and a half, and checking Twitter while they try to lazily shove some emotional context down your throat, you’ll like this movie. If not, this is definitely not the thing to change your mind on the merits of action movies. Instead, I’d recommend watching “The Night Comes For Us” or “Mission Impossible: Fallout.” Both of these films are just pure action, but the action scenes are so good that I think they might be able to draw some non-genre fans in. 

(Photo: TWC)

The Master” (Released in 2012; watched by us on August 5, 2020)

A drama by Paul Thomas Anderson. We watched it on Netflix!

Mark:

It appears that my partner, Nitish, did not approve of my review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.” Even though I was quite positive overall … I had only said the beginning was slow. 

And it was, just saying. 

But, nevertheless, I must repent for my cinema sins by giving “The Master” a good honest shot. However, I am about to double down in my film heathenry … this movie has made me realize that I do not like Paul Thomas Anderson as a director. Uh oh.

“The Master” studies Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran who struggles to adapt back to civilian life, and feel any general belonging and companionship. So, he ends up joining a rising religious movement called “The Cause.” This is a traveling community led by Lancester Dodd. But, Freddie struggles to let go of his more dysfunctional behaviors, and tensions arise between him and Dodd. It is also a weird movie — I can definitely not call it plain. Nor can I say that it is, really, anything less than brilliant. 

Let us start, obviously, with our lead. Freddie Quell is a complicated character, but he is so well crafted. He struggles for belonging after the war — so it initially seems ideal when he joins a society that claims they can mold him into one of theirs. But any of us can recognize, in any semblance of reflection, that this is a recipe for disaster. Freddie takes much longer to come to this realization, however, and it is the pain and tension that comes from his obliviousness that leads into the movie’s most thrilling, and horrifying, moments. Freddie is toxic, and he is dangerous, but Joaquin Phoenix portrays him with clear sympathy. I can see why this very same actor was drafted in the recent “Joker.” 

But “The Cause” plays an equally important, and fascinating, role. The religious community (or… philosophical movement, whatever you call it) is very interesting in its subtle manipulations — but also in its clear weaknesses, personified in its leader, Dodd. Like the movement itself, Dodd uses a persona of calm and reason at one moment … in another, he lashes out at those who question his teaching and dances around with a bunch of naked women. Like Dodd, the philosophy itself is bred by the notion that members are superior and more civilized than others, comparing the “unenlightened” regularly to animals. In other words, they are really, really intense hipsters. Lastly, as Dodd becomes weak and subservient, so too has the religion lost its initial drive amid its popularity. 

Clearly, I am not lacking in praise for “The Master.” With time, this movie got me: hook, line and sinker. But, time is the key word here; like “There Will Be Blood,” the journey there was slow — it takes a lot of work, both on the filmmaker’s and audience’s part, to get to the substance. 

There is something beautiful about this version of filmmaking, in which artists and consumers alike have to work together to realize the experience, but I, as a consumer, get generally alienated by this whole process. I — like, I imagine, the majority of you, my dear readers — am a bit lazier. I do not like working this hard to get something out of my movie. I prefer to be taken from the get-go, and taken on a ride, but Anderson just is not interested in doing this. If “The Master” somehow found a way to maintain its third-act momentum throughout its entirety, I would be singing a completely different tune. But, I am also not entirely convinced that this movie could be exactly as it is if it didn’t take the time to meld into its setting and character. And this is a brilliant film, as I’ve previously established… so, we find ourselves at an awkward crossroads. 

Do not get me wrong, I think he is probably a brilliant visionary and a master of his craft … I thinkprobably. That is sort of the catch for me. His films are like oil, and my tastes are like water — you need oil for cars, you need water to live but the two simply do not mix. However, for those with more fiery tastes, I think you will like this one more than I did. Hit this one up if you don’t mind working a little bit for your art. But, heed my warning — you will be put through the wringer. 

Nitish:

Mark doesn’t like Paul Thomas Anderson as a director. Tragically, we can no longer be friends. I will not discuss his blasphemy in this review, because I am still reeling from having to call my lawyer to write Mark out of my will. I gave him my Blu-Ray collection. Since his taste in art is apparently awful he will not benefit from it anyway. 

I went to the mat for “There Will Be Blood” in my review for it. Mark enjoyed it, but he gave astonishingly insufficient praise to the greatest living American director’s one-of-a-kind masterpiece, brought to life in the greatest acting performance of all time by the incomparable Daniel Day-Lewis. So I was excited to rewatch “The Master,” the movie which Paul Thomas Anderson considers his personal favorite. I have to be honest—while I enjoyed the experience of watching “The Master” the first time around, I didn’t, uh, get it. I feel a little better about not really getting it, because Anderson said that he didn’t think he was entirely successful in its execution. But it has to be Anderson’s favorite movie for a reason, right? So I was excited to head back in for another try. 

While I think it’s not quite as good as “There Will Be Blood,” I certainly do have a newfound appreciation for “The Master.” It poses some fascinating questions about the nature of faith, religion and god. There’s plenty of fantastic acting to go around. And of course, it’s directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, which is enough to elevate anything into fantastic art. The movie uses a cult called “The Cause,” seemingly inspired by scientology, led by the always charismatic Philip Seymour Hoffman, to explore these issues. 

I’ll work backwards through that list. I’ve talked about Anderson’s brilliant directing before, so I’ll give you the TLDR this time, but there are so, so many brilliantly composed shots in this film. He uses color magnificently, and he works with this rich and bright color palette that never feels like it’s too much. Just look at this magnificent opening scene. The shot at 1:28 reminds me of a similar shot from “There Will Be Blood,” where his main character’s face was framed similarly. It’s a neat little compositional trick that pockets the image of interest using intersecting lines. His camera is always in this gentle, subtle motion that draws the viewer in and guides us. This movie has a lot more conversations than “There Will Be Blood,” with a much more expansive cast, and so there’s a huge emphasis on elegantly staging his characters at different places in the frame. I really can’t emphasize enough how consistently good his direction is. 

Mark criticizes this movie for feeling slow. I think, again, that where this movie is slow, it is very intentionally slow. We start off with some hectic opening minutes where there’s a bunch of rampant sexual energy as we see Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell drink pretty much every liquid in sight, alternatively making love to his hand and a sand sculpture. But the movie slows down very rapidly after this, like bullets hitting water. The first time I watched this movie, I didn’t really understand why Anderson made this choice, but I think it’s to characterize the sort of aimlessness that Freddie feels following the end of the Second World War. He bounces around from odd-job to odd-job, trying and failing to fit in. It’s not that Anderson’s shots don’t have a purpose — it’s that he’s trying to convey a lack of purpose. This gives the viewer the same type of catharsis that Freddie receives when he is able to find a cause, or I guess more specifically, “The Cause.” 

And that’s what religion is meant to cure, is it not? Camus wrote about the inherent absurdity of life, the idea that we live and love and suffer and die for no real purpose. But religion can give us that cause, that purpose. It marshalls us to action; it sustains us through that aimlessness. And so when Freddie drinks his way into the grasps of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s ‘Master’ (although he’s named Lancaster Dodd, no one really refers to him as that), we can see him slowly righting himself, like a ship lost at sea regaining its bearings. 

But Anderson slowly strips the veneers of “The Cause” away. Hoffman magnificently and subtly plays a cult leader who has drank his own Kool-Aid, believing fully in his status as a messiah. Freddie sustains the Master as much as the Master sustains him. Without people willing to believe in his status as a messiah, he loses that status. Lancaster Dodd is turned into the Master by virtue of his worshippers. When pushed on his beliefs, he is at first politely indignant, arguing that soon enough they will complete their scientific inquiries, and the truth will come about. But when confronted, he blows up, shouting down his interrogators. 

As the movie progresses, we start to see Freddie fall more and more in line with The Cause. He is given a series of tasks to complete. The viewer knows that these trials and tribulations, like walking back and forth across a room for hours between a wall and a window, have no capacity to reveal an underlying truth of the universe. But Freddie needs the task, the ritual, to cling to lest he get lost in the waves. So he persists, forcing himself to believe. When strangers attack his Master, they’re not just attacking a friend or a mentor but his last chance at sanity. So he fights back. 

This interplay between conspiracy and faith makes “The Master,” tragically, just as quintessentially American as “There Will Be Blood.” In recent American politics, we have seen a totally unprecedented and massive rise in pseudoscientific cults that are too similar to the one portrayed in Anderson’s movie, the most prominent of which is QAnon. I think it’s easy for citizens who aren’t caught up in the conspiracies to look askance at some of the, frankly, totally wack bullshit that proponents claim is going on. But the point for QAnon believers, as it is for Freddie and his Cause, isn’t the facticity of any of the beliefs. Q has been wrong more times than any of us can count. But Q being wrong is not a refutation of his worldview but instead an invitation to the adherent to work even harder to believe in him. QAnon is a religion. It is a secular faith in a higher power that, for its devotees, redeems the incoherence of modern life. When a QAnon believer looks at whatever President Trump tweeted this morning and sees a champion who is pitted in a six-dimensional chess match against a ruthless cabal of child traffickers, they are engaged in a similar exercise to Freddie Quell when he walks back and forth between a wall and a window and manages to find a portal to the stars. I think Anderson wishes that he wasn’t quite so prescient, but he was. And that makes “The Master” another one of his genuine American classics. I still don’t think it’s quite as good as “There Will Be Blood” (if Mr. Anderson is upset about that, he shouldn’t have let Daniel Day-Lewis give the greatest performance ever caught on camera in his other classic American movie), but it’s definitely a sleeper pick as one of the most important works in the American film canon. 

The gradual balkanization of American political society and the elevation of crackpot conspiracy theorists to steadily higher roles within our government aren’t great notes to end this review of “The Master” on, so I’ll instead talk about Amy Adams. I’ve long been of the opinion that Amy Adams is the most under-awarded actor in Hollywood, and this film has served to reinforce my blind faith in her. Only Amy Adams, in a movie with Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead roles and Rami Malek, Laura Dern and Jesse Plemons in the supporting cast, could manage to quietly outshine them all. Her performance is restrained, but we are able to read the indignation, the anger, in every subtle facial gesture. Adams is incredibly legible as an actress, and she is able to turn the role of Dodd’s most recent wife into a sort of Lady Macbeth. How she didn’t get an Oscar for this role, or an Oscar for any other of her brilliant turns, is beyond me. 

So once again, Mark praises this movie, but he does so astonishingly insufficiently. Although it’s a period piece set after the Second World War, “The Master” seems to offer novel insights into the complicated world of conspiracy theories that we are living in now. Paul Thomas Anderson once again proves that he’s the greatest American to ever touch a camera, water is wet and we can all return to our restless sleep. 

(Photo: MGM)

Four Weddings and a Funeral” (Released in 1994; watched by us on August 7, 2020)

A British romantic comedy by Mike Newell. We watched it on Hulu!

Mark:

Nitish hates romantic comedies, and I swear this is not the reason why I picked this movie. Though it is the reason why I wanted to watch it this week. Yet even despite my attempts at punishing Nitish for yet another bad opinion (this time about his “Song of the Sea” review), I found “Four Weddings and a Funeral” to be enjoyable. 

This movie follows — what else — four different weddings (and one very different funeral) and an ensemble cast of characters that repeatedly attend them. We focus, however, on Hugh Grant as Charles, a mild-mannered bachelor who is uncomfortable committing to the idea of marriage, as he believes there is a perfect match out there for him. Throughout the first wedding, it appears as though he’s found this perfect match — a woman named Carrie, with whom he has a one-night stand. Only later does he find out that she is engaged. 

The story is told throughout its titular five events. Through the funeral, and its four weddings, we watch as people fall in love, break up and simply experience their individual stages of life. The movie also allows the rest of its characters’ off-screen lives to be either implied or described. It is a fascinating narrative technique that, in my opinion, captures the dynamic — and fleeting — nature of life. Watching how characters’ lives can change between moments emphasizes the need to treat each little moment as significant, and to seize what you can out of the present. This was a clever narrative way to communicate this to the audience while not having to outright express it. 

Though, I fear this is where my overall thoughtful analysis ends — I am not sure what else to say about this movie. 

I had initially expected the premise of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” to play some fascinating narrative advantage — perhaps, I thought, its unusual structure would provide a unique storytelling quirk that I could dissect, or at the very least freshen things up. Though, looking back, it really doesn’t. If anything, this structure can sometimes detract from the experience. The reason why, for example, I am not talking about many of the other members of the ensemble cast is that I had trouble really following all of these differing narrative threads. There were simply too many things going on at the same time for me to follow in my first viewing. 

The narratives I was able to follow, however, were also not all that special.  Charles is, of course, afraid of commitment — quoting “Community”’s Britta Perry, “how original.” I’ve seen this before. And though it does end with the surprisingly progressive idea of our two romantic leads deciding not to get married but instead remain simple partners, I am, overall, too familiar with the motions to find anything particularly meaningful in this storyline. 

Do not get me wrong; I still liked this movie. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” definitely suffices as a romantic comedy — the romance was enjoyable enough to follow, and it was very laugh-out-loud funny at points. Hugh Grant’s performance in particular stands out to me, making Charles truly endearing in an adorkable and warm-hearted sort of way. I did enjoy, too, that the movie found a decent balance between making Charles sympathetic, while not entirely excusing him for some of his worse deeds. 

This is a good film … just not a surprising one. And with time, I am finding less and less outside of its premise worth really remembering. Though, it is a harmless pick for movie night, and an easy one too — maybe it is one of those things that’s better with friends, or perhaps a significant other. 

I, however, am bitter and single, and if you are like me, I don’t think I can recommend this one. 

Nitish:

So I don’t think that it’s that I hate romantic comedies as a genre. I think some of them are pretty bad, it’s true. But my main problem is that they feel artless; they’re cute little affairs with a bit of romance and a lot of mediocre comedy. I genuinely don’t think I’ve watched a rom-com that has made me go, “Ah! That’s interesting!” Like there’s sometimes interesting execution here and there, but seriously nothing that’s ever worthwhile. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” did not change my mind on this. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that’s remarkable about this movie is how astoundingly unremarkable it is. 

But you know what is deeply and profoundly remarkable? The Portland Trailblazers’ Damian Lillard’s 61-point game against the Dallas Mavericks that was on in the background while I watched this movie.

So Hugh Grant perpetually looks dapper in this movie, in a sort of adorable socially awkward way. Andie MacDowell, whom you may recognize from “Groundhog Day,” plays Carrie, the love interest, whom Grant’s Charles rapidly falls in love with during the first of the movie’s titular marquee events. There’s some decent comedy here, but it’s all standard tropes; nothing is surprising. 

But you know what was surprising? Damian Lillard hitting back-to-back-to-back three pointers [2:19 in the highlights above] against the Dallas Mavericks in unbelievable fashion. I mean, he’s been one of the best point guards in the league for years, coming in clutch whenever his team needs it. But this was a truly awesome performance. 

“Four Weddings and a Funeral” also has a dense supporting cast, all of whom had their little quirks. There was Scottish accent guy. Edgy gal. Unrequited love with protagonist gal. Happy and drunk guy. There’s a gay couple. But there were no storylines that I found personally or emotionally compelling. And while it’s not as bad as other rom-coms I’ve seen, I think that the gay couple is unnecessarily sidelined, and that its gender politics are still problematic. Parts of this seem pretty retrograde (I’m getting back to this later). 

But you know what was personally and emotionally compelling? Watching Damian Lillard sink literally every single free throw just a few days after he missed two clutch free throws versus the Clippers. Clearly, it was Dame Time today, and we can actually thank Clippers player Paul George for riling Lillard up. 

Occasionally, I felt guilty about spending so much time watching Damian Lillard overtake basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of having ten fifty-point games in his career, and when there was a pause in play in the fourth quarter, I started watching the movie on my laptop again. You see, dear reader, I do feel guilty when I don’t give movies my full and undivided attention, as I want to give you accurate reviews. So I watched as our two protagonists went wedding shopping. It was sort of funny, not that interesting. I don’t really know what happened after they went wedding shopping because Damian Lillard hit another unbelievable three pointer. 

I wrestled with shame near the end of the fourth quarter of the game about whether or not I should be focusing more on the movie. But this movie didn’t hold my attention. At all. I turned the TV off at one point, and then sometime during the second (?) wedding my eyes glazed over, and I forgot that I was watching the movie entirely. My laptop wasn’t actually showing me Hugh Grant repeatedly putting his glasses on and taking them off, but instead was a blank screen devoid of anything to interest me. Sound was coming from my speakers, but it was white noise, the kind that you could easily fall asleep to. Thankfully, I didn’t fall asleep, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen Damian Lillard top off his incredible 61-point game with a deep three that bounced off of the rim, soared into the air and then fell neatly through the basket. 

In summary, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was overly reliant on Damian Lillard entering a trance-like state and nailing deep threes with a fury and intensity that would have made John Wick blush, and this Mike Newell-directed film got some suspicious help from the referees in the fourth quarter. It’s not that this is a bad rom-com, but rom-coms seem to me to be one of the most stale and predictable genres, and this has so little else going for it. Everything here is entirely, and I mean entirely, obvious. A movie like “When Harry Met Sally” does more interesting work about the interplay between platonic relationships and romantic relationships, but it’s also funnier, better written and has more chemistry between the leads. This movie’s big idea is that maybe marriage isn’t an absolutely necessary component of a romantic relationship. Maybe it’s just a consequence of the fact that I’m watching this movie close to 30 years after it was made, but this argument doesn’t feel that radical to me. 

But here’s the kicker. Although I freely admit that the movie didn’t do much to hold my attention while I was watching it, now that I’m concluding this review, I realize that this movie wasn’t released in 2020. It was released in 1994. The gay couple that was seamlessly integrated into the rest of the friend group? That ruthless slight where a priest introduces one half of this couple as a close friend? Carrie’s relatively liberated sexuality? That message that I didn’t find that interesting about the lack of importance of marriage? The BFI concedes that when viewed today some of these arguments may seem “frustratingly coy” to contemporary viewers. But revisiting this movie — now two days after I watched it — I realize that for 1994, this movie may well have been revolutionary. It’s a strangely frustrating viewing experience because I maintain that the romcom pieces of it aren’t that good, but I’m in growing awe of the quiet ways that Newell pushed the envelope. I’m feeling pretty guilty about turning this review into a joke about basketball. 

In a weird way, I think it’s sort of a good thing that this movie barely caught my eye. Disguised in a (really just incredibly) bland romance between its two protagonists, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” is a stepping stone for better representation of the LGBTQ community in contemporary film and culture. The stuff in here doesn’t seem progressive now, and indeed it can sometimes feel a little retrograde. This movie barely registered for me with a basketball game in the background, but I think that might be because I am lucky enough to live in a place where the stealthy little attempts to bring a sidelined community into the cultural mainstream seem incredibly antiquated. Analyzing this movie from a contemporary lens, from the safety and security of my home, it just feels unremarkable. But viewing it in context? When representation that seems lazy and underdeveloped to my eyes allowed for 1994 moviegoers to realize “that gay people had emotions like normal people?” There are far too many places around the world where that work still needs to get done. And so “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” if you manage to get past the movie itself, feels worlds more important than a basketball player having a good night. 

If you’re in the mood for a rom-com, I’d recommend “When Harry Meets Sally,” keeping in mind that its gender politics are also antiquated. If you’re looking for a movie with LGBTQ representation, or just a good movie period, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is one of the most arresting works of art that I’ve ever seen. But if you’re looking at this movie with an eye to cultural history, it might be worth your time.

Contact Mark York at mdyorkjr ‘at’ stanford.edu and Nitish Vaidyanathan at nitishv ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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