In Mindy Kaling We Trust
Streaming on Hulu | 2019 | TV-MA | 1 Season
Genre: Romantic comedy 👰🏽❤️🤵🏽
Why We Watched: We'd been waiting on this to land for nearly a year after it was announced that Mindy Kaling planned to "spin a modern, diverse twist on the traditional." How could we not? It's Mindy! It's based on a rom-com classic! It's Hulu! It's set in London!
You Might Also Like: Richard Curtis's original Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994, on Netflix) serves as our source text for this contemporary re-imagining, and it holds up! After rewatching it recently, we were surprised by how modern it felt (unlike Curtis's Notting Hill (1999) and Love Actually (2003), both on HBO). OR: Might we suggest The Mindy Project (2012-17)? If you live under a rock and don't know about this Hulu original, it follows Dr. Mindy Lahiri, a modern-day lady who is obsessed with romantic comedies and would be voted most likely to give an inappropriate toast at a wedding.
Mindy Kaling and Richard Curtis are a match made in rom-com heaven. With The Office (2005–13) and The Mindy Project (2012–2015), Kaling brought us female characters entirely caught up in the myths that Curtis built with canonical films like Notting Hill (1999) and Love Actually (2003). When it was announced that Kaling was working on a Hulu series that reimagined Curtis’s Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), we danced through the halls of our apartments like Hugh Grant did through Downing Street. The project was sure to serve up all the meet-cutes, mishaps, love matches, and happy endings we know and love while repurposing genre clichés for contemporary times.
Four Weddings follows four American best friends who live in London, the city where they studied abroad together. Maya (Nathalie Emmanuel), a New York politico, arrives in England for best friend Ainsley’s (Rebecca Rittenhouse) wedding, where she reunites with besties Craig (Brandon Mychal Smith) and Duffy (John Reynolds). They’re all excited that the crew is back together, but the friendships aren't without their fissures. Duffy loves Maya, Maya loves Kash (Nikesh Patel), Kash is marrying Ainsley, Ainsley’s new BFF Gemma (Zoe Boyle) doesn’t like Maya... And on it goes. The foreshadowing of drama, the promise of love lost and found, and a superb set—replete with the fabulous costume designs of Salvador Perez—prime us to fall in love with this show.
Yet reviewers panned the first four episodes, which released ahead of the rest of the season. In her review for the New York Times, Margaret Lyons plainly stated that none of the main characters are interesting. She’s not wrong—the characters do seem a little one-dimensional, a little flat—but as the series progresses, it’s clear that this is part of the point. At the close of episode four (not even half-way through the ten-episode season), we admit that we were a little confused too. What has this got to do with the Hugh Grant movie, apart from a kiss in the rain that so many loathed? Was it supposed to be unsatisfying?
The show is disconcerting at first because it takes well-loved and oft-used rom-com motifs and removes the element that makes them fun. Case in point, Character X and Character Y's (#nospoilers) kiss in the rain should be epically romantic, like it was in the original Hugh Grant–Andie MacDowell moment... and in *that kiss* in The Notebook... and heck, it was even fun in Spiderman! But this time, the rain-kiss™ is shared by the wrong people. When you’re used to rom-coms serving up satisfaction, this twist feels extremely unsettling. By the end of the season, it’s clear that Four Weddings uses these moments to call out some major flaws in our beloved genre while still filling the series with happy endings.
The romantic comedy has a specious origin story at best. In the 1930s, Hollywood was trying to write movies for women to (1) sell tickets and (2) convince them that marriage was more important than work. The crazy thing is, this tradition carried on for decades. From His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940) to You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998), we’ve watched our leading ladies find love and lose their jobs in the process. But, as film critic Roberta Garrett suggested, romance audiences are smarter than we give them credit for! We know the game of the rom-com and are playing it willingly (e.g., this list from Bustle). IMHO, this is the perspective from which Kaling is coming.
When Ainsley and Maya hold up white poster board signs to profess their friendship, we recall the moment from Love Actually. When Kash walks through London to a Hindi cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” we catch the reference to Notting Hill. When Ainsley confesses that she loves Bryce against her better judgment, we instantly think of Pride and Prejudice. But we aren’t Mindy Lahiri, Kaling’s title character who can’t see the difference between fiction and reality. We know that what we’re watching is fantasy and we’re here for it.
If you’re still skeptical, it helps to think of this show as a reboot rather than a remake. It’s not like the original movie at all. Most of the characters are women, rather than men. It’s multicultural and American (although filmed in Notting Hill). Expecting, and not getting, an update to the classic is probably what led to the bah humbug-ness of early reviews. But to borrow a line from the original film (and David Cassidy), we think we love you, Four Weddings and a Funeral. And we've got our hopes set on a season 2 🤞.
TL/DR: We all should have known better than to doubt Mindy Kaling. This series is a flawless rom-com and you can’t tell us otherwise.
Liz and Grace