Death at a Funeral

Death at a Funeral
Made in: Great Britain
Language: English
Directed by: Frank Oz
Starring: Matthew MacFadyen, Keeley Hawes, Peter Dinklage, Rupert Graves, Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Kris Marshall, Andy Nyman, Ewen Bremner, Peter Vaughan, Jane Asher
Year: 2007

Synopsis: Gathering friends and members of his dysfunctional family in preparation for his father's funeral, Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) soon realizes that the day will be much livelier than expected.

First, his wife Jane (Keeley Hawes, MacFadyen's real life spouse) is constantly pressing him about moving out of his mother's home. Then his brother Robert (Rupert Graves), a successful but selfish novelist living in New York, reneges on his promise to cover half the funeral costs.

Martha and her brother Troy (Daisy Donovan and Kris Marshall, respectively), Daniel's cousins, arrive only to discover that Martha's boyfriend Simon (Alan Tudyk) accidentally dropped acid, a dwarf named Peter (Peter Dinklage) has some shocking insights about the private life of the deceased, the minister has to be somewhere else by 3pm, and wheelchair-ridden Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughn) needs to use the restroom in the worst possible way.

The day turns more and more chaotic by the minute as disruptions, family secrets, and life-changing decisions all collide under one roof.

The Good: Director Frank Oz does a commendable job keeping things interesting by getting a lot out of one location, which is where the bulk of the film takes place. With that,Death at a Funeral, in many ways, has the feel of a theatrical play. Although the cast is large, each character is well-fleshed out and distinct.

The highly reserved, nearly deadpan Matthew MacFadyen is an interesting choice for sick comedy. Trying to remain serious and under control amidst all the madness, it was an effective strategy on Frank Oz's part to assign MacFadyen as the "straight man."

It was a bit strange seeing MacFadyen and Keeley Hawes in a comic piece, since both are well known from the intense BBC spy drama, Spooks (aka MI-5 in the US). Nonetheless, they fit well with the rest of the characters.

That being said, much credit should go to the supporting cast, especially in the second half as there are a few clever, laugh-out-loud moments.

Admittedly, some of the more effective humor is a bit crude, but its presentation through dry, British wit and civility gives it an odd sense of sophistication.

The Bad: With so many characters, and each with specific quirks (and knowing that all of them will be under the same roof), Death at a Funeral "boxed itself into a corner" in a comedic sense.

For instance, Alan Tudyk's character Simon, who's mistakenly dropped acid by mistake (he thought he'd taken valium instead), does a lot of crazy stuff throughout the film. But his moments are largely hit or miss in drawing laughs because they're so predictable and occasionally overdrawn. Then again, there isn't much else for the character to do.

The same goes for much of the other jokes and gags. In the opening scenes the set-up is too obvious, and many of the early comedic moments seemed designed to force us to laugh.

Who would like this movie: As with many so-so foreign films, this one is saved by superb acting and classy style. However, the premise is too limited in terms of providing consistent humorous material.

I suppose fans of British humor would get the most out of this film, but I can't give it an enthusiastic endorsment. Frank Oz and his cast do all that they can, but in the end, Death at a Funeral is a good, but not great, movie.

(2 1/2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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