What makes romantic comedies successful?
The outline of a meet-cute moment, a sudden realization that the potential couple cannot be together, a sweeping grand gesture, and a moving speech proving their love true while rendering the obstacle bunk generally delivers the goods.
The whole shebang also has to feel accessible to viewers even when it’s otherwise far-fetched, and that’s notably done through characters so well-written they appeal to a little piece of everyone.
Inserting yourself into the story is crucial; after all, what fun is it if you can’t imagine yourself playing one of the parts?
Four Weddings and a Funeral comes from Mindy Kaling. You know her best for creating and starring in The Mindy Project. She knows her way around humor and romance.
Surely, appealing to a broader audience drove her adaptation of the classic film, Four Weddings and a Funeral, into a series with a diverse cast.
On paper, Four Weddings and a Funeral seems like a no-brainer to get the series treatment. Kaling and co-creator Matt Warburton didn’t set out to recreate the film but instead to recapture the magic set inside the familiar framework of the life events.
The series follows the outline with Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel, best known as Missandei on Game of Thrones) and Kash (rising star Nikesh Patel) who meet when Maya flies to the UK from the US to visit friends her American friends now living in London.
An airport mishap forces Maya and Kash to spend unexpected time together resulting in their meet-cute moment.
Unfortunately, the moment fell flat. Relying almost solely on another rom-com (literally) and unnecessary exposition for propulsion, the moment isn’t earth-shattering. It’s rather dull.
The fault isn’t that of the actors, as the cast is quite impressive. It falls at the feet of the writing. There is too much saying and not enough doing. The writing contradicts the premise, denying our affection for the protagonists and miscalculating the common sense of viewers.
For example, the series plays up the immediacy of a world with social media but fails in one of the most important aspects.
News of an illicit relationship between a NY congressman running for senate and his speechwriter makes it to loudest voices of Parliament, but two best friends of equal distance didn’t share photos of each other’s boyfriends.
That’s a little too out of touch with the modern world and friendships within it.
Instead of proving Maya’s value as a brilliant speechwriter by successfully delivering a speech or even hearing one she’s written for her those she represents, we’re left with only her word on it.
An affair between Maya and her congressman carries no emotional weight. Her connection to her friends in the UK is tenuous. We know these things more because we’re told about them than because we watch and perceive.
Kash gets the benefit of a fully drawn family and a career crisis about which he is very passionate. Patel has a natural warmth in those scenes, and he tries to carry it over to Kash’s romantic entanglements (which are plentiful), but it doesn’t succeed.
On their own, the friends outside of the suggested romantic pairing lead more engaging lives.
Brandon Mychal Smith is not a stranger to the genre nor the screen. The former child actor steals every scene he’s in as Craig.
A known playboy who has found the love of his life, as he navigates monogamy, Craig gets a life-altering shock forcing him to question everything he believes.
Craig is at the center of one of the only truly British-isms of the series when a twist of fate gets him caught up in a reality series that’s captured the attention of all of Britain.
Sophia La Porta has the fortune to appear opposite Smith as Craig’s girlfriend, Zara, a woman who could be hard to handle if not for the exhilarating pairing of the actors. Smith elevates the scenes of everyone around him, so Craig’s love for Zara goes surprisingly unquestioned.
As Ainsley, Rebecca Rittenhouse infuses a rather uninspired character with a quirky allure most often seen in Hallmark Movies.
John Reynolds plays Duffy, the “Duckie” to Emmanuel’s Maya. Unfortunately, Reynolds is more of a sad sack than Jon Cryer’s effervescent portrayal of one of the most memorable losers in rom-com history.
All of the great, neglected sidekicks of rom-com history, from Duckie in Pretty In Pink to Farmer Ted in Sixteen Candles played outside the rules with self-confidence more robust than their losing hands should have allowed.
Duffy has no self-confidence, and he’s lacking humor, but he still dares to believe he might hook the girl.
The other standout is Zoe Boyle as Ainsley’s neighbor, Gemma. Married to a wealthy man (Tom Mison), Gemma is a bored housewife with Maya for the coveted title of Ainsley’s best friend, a title that, given the circumstances, she seems poised to win.
The four Americans were brought together when they attended a semester in college abroad, but they got torn apart when Maya decided to accept a job in the States.
It’s that distance that suggests Maya might not be familiar with Ainsley’s boyfriend beyond his name or aware that Duffy has been longing after her and growing dire in his need to court her.
Kash and Maya meet outside of the group upon her arrival in the UK, but Kash is already a part of her gang, unbeknownst to her, as he shares an office with Craig who introduced him to Ainsley.
Believing that Maya was in the dark about a significant person in her friends’ lives is imperative. But you cannot accept that and the value of their friendship at the same time.
The problem with Four Weddings and a Funeral getting the movie treatment is that in a larger, unconfined space outside of the weddings and the funeral, the group is disjointed and unrealized.
They’re in the same orbit, sure, but their extended storylines don’t build from a powerful connection we observe but instead one implied, and the disconnect isn’t easy to overcome.
Without the spoken words assuring me that the group had a long history, I wouldn’t have believed it. They go through the motions but don’t have the genuine chemistry to solidify their relationships.
The same is said for the leads. I know I’m supposed to be rooting for Maya and Kash to find their way to true love, but the natural investment falls to other couples, some who see their love realized and others who are not so lucky.
Overall, the cast is serviceable, and some winning performances and love stories will tug at your heart. The disappointment comes with the main event, as the drawn-out exploration doesn’t favor Maya and Kash.
Since the very point of an extended version of the delightful film is to offer more insight into the characters outside of the life-changing events, it falls short of its goal through the first seven episodes.
As is often the case, the screeners I received stopped at a pivotal part of the story.
The remaining episodes could make all the difference in the world. The illusion of romantic comedies is never to give up until the end, so the full awakening of Maya and Kash might be on the horizon.
Four Weddings and a Funeral lightly entertains, and there is even a rush of emotions that will have you grabbing for the tissues at one point, but don’t be surprised if the main element leaves you wanting more.
Four Weddings and a Funeral premieres on Hulu Wednesday, July 31, and subsequent installments of the 13-episode season will air weekly.