The latest from director and beloved Mupeteer Frank Oz, Death at a Funeral is a painfully typical farce, full of wild coincidences and cliché plot devices; Luckily, it’s put together with such energy and aplomb that even though you may have seen some of it before it’s still surprisingly funny.
It stars a mostly British ensemble cast of unfamiliar names with familiar faces. If you’re not a hardcore Serenity fan then you probably won’t know who Alan Tudyk is, but when you see him standing bare-bottomed on a rooftop tripping on acid you’ll instantly think, “oh hey it’s that guy!”
As the title suggests, the film takes place mostly at a funeral, beginning with the arrival of family and friends and ending when the whole horrid, doomed to be botched affair is finished. Things go pretty badly from the start, with each family member dragging his or her own baggage to the thing, some spoiling for a fight. It goes from bad to worse when the sons of the deceased, Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) and Robert (Rupert Graves), discover that their dead father has a dark secret which may or may not involve a midget (Peter Dinklage). Things fall completely to pieces when said small-statured sleazeball shows up at the funeral to blackmail them into keeping his mouth shut.
Around this central problem Dean Craig’s script introduces us to a motley assortment of characters who’ve shown up to pay their respects. If you have a family, then you may find some of your more annoying relatives represented quite accurately in them. In other instances, the movie relies rather heavily on wacky co-incidences like repeatedly mistaken hallucinogenic substances to amp up the comedy. Tricky to pull off without reeking of artifice, but Death at a Funeral is less concerned with being realistic than it is with getting that extra laugh. Like I said at the outset, this is a farce. Unbelievable and extreme coincidences are par for the course. Look it up.
Really, Oz lucked out on this one. His recent work as a director has been somewhat shaky. He put himself on the map as more than just a Muppet director by rattling off Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and What About Bob? in the late 80s and early 90s, but since hasn’t ever really found his way back to that kind of greatness. He brushes back up against it here in large part because his cast is just that flat out good. They’re a brilliant bunch of character actors completely let loose on the material, rattling off quips and grimacing for the camera in all the right places. The result is at times, gut-busting.
Death at a Funeral is a modest little film with modest ambitions. Oz and his cast showed up on set with one thought in mind: Get a laugh. That they do, to gasping effect.
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