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August 16, 2007 | Comments ()


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Putting the "Eral" in "Funeral"

Death at a Funeral / Dustin Rowles

Film Reviews | August 16, 2007 | Comments ()


I went to my first funeral when I was 16 (Phillip’s older brother’s girlfriend’s mom died of cancer); I don’t remember much about it other than I had no idea who the dead lady was in the casket and that I felt awfully awkward being there in a suit I’d probably scrounged up from the Salvation Army the night before (it was the first time I’d ever worn one). But, afterwards, my friends and I reluctantly decided to drive from the church to the burial site, which was about 20 miles away. We drove out on the freeway, and about halfway to the cemetery, we inexplicably changed our minds, reasoning that the funeral ceremony at the church sufficed to exhaust our obligation and there was little sense in suffering through another graveside ceremony (sorry, Alicia). So, at the next exit, we decided to pull off the freeway, turn around, and go back home. Clearly, however, it never occurred to us that the entire funeral procession up to our car would follow us off the freeway and trail us until we’d hidden behind an 18-wheeler at a gas station and those poor grieving folks realized that they’d been inadvertently hoodwinked into losing sight of the lead car. Who the hell knows if they ever managed to ultimately find the gravesite (and why this particular gaffe has not been mined by a bad sitcom yet is beyond me).

I mention this embarrassing anecdote mostly as a way to fill some space, because the decidedly dull Death at a Funeral doesn’t offer much to write about. Written by Dean Craig (Caffeine) and directed by the once decent Frank Oz (The Dark Crystal, What About Bob?, The Stepford Wives), this British comedy seems to want very badly to extend the funeral portion of Four Weddings and a Funeral into a full-length farce. Sadly, as the late Joel Seigel might write, it’s a “funereal endeavor.”

Death at a Funeral suitably takes place in the funeral home where humor had gone to die; a ceremony is being held for a family’s patriarch. The deceased’s son, Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen, 2005’s version of Mr. Darcy), arrives at the parlor only to discover that the director has brought out the wrong body, which suggests, at least, that Death is a comedy. As the family comes together, the movie’s uninspired running gags fall into place: Daniel and his wife, Jane (Keeley Hawes, Mcfadyen’s real-life wife), seem to have more concern about putting down a deposit on a new house than they do the death of Daniels’ father. Daniel’s brother, Robert (Rupert Graves) is a famous author who blew all his cash on a first-class ticket from the States to London for the ceremony, and thus has no money left to pay his half of the funeral costs. Everyone expects Robert to do the eulogy, because he’s the writer, but Robert insists that Daniel do it for reasons I don’t quite understand, except for the fact that Daniel is the movie’s lead and he should thus deliver it.

Elsewhere, two oddball friends of Daniel’s (Andy Nyman and Ewen Bremmer) are charged with picking up the senior-citizen uncle from a nursing home, which leads to the expected hijinx at the funeral when the wheelchair bound uncle really needs to take a shit. There is also the subplot concerning Martha (Daisy Donovan), who is engaged to lawyer Simon (Alan Tudyk), but her family doesn’t approve of Simon, a matter that is not helped when Simon accidentally takes a hallucinogenic instead of Valium and causes a scene when he thinks that someone is alive inside the coffin. Later, he even climbs atop the roof of the funeral parlor naked. Actually, if the entire film had been limited to Alan Tudyk’s scenes, it might’ve been a decent comedy.

Finally, there is a mystery little person (the awesome Peter Dinklage in a distinctly unawesome role), who reveals a secret that finally sets the funeral’s “wacky chaos” into motion at the half-hour mark (the secret being rather obvious in a film of this nature and, of course, involving scandalous gay photos). There is little more to say about Death of a Funeral other than the antics are neither wacky nor all that chaotic in their lead-up to the expected poignant eulogy that’s supposed to redeem the humanity in the misanthropic attendees.

The script tries very hard to shoehorn a lot of embarrassing episodes and madcap gags into the funeral, but Death never really takes off in any meaningful way. Good farce relies on improbable situations, but everything in Death feels lifeless and expected — a bunch of warmed over gags from a thousand other bad comedies. Worse still, under the direction of Oz, the cast — an assortment of mostly excellent British actors — is forced to resort to crass American slapstick, which seems a waste with a crew so capable of dry British humor, of which you’ll find very little here. Indeed, the real death in this film is in the cocked-up writing and execution; honestly, one expects a lot more from freakin’ Yoda.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.



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