Death at a Funeral Review

In light of the American remake of Death at a Funeral, starring Chris Rock and coming three years later, it's worthwhile to rewatch the British original, which remains superior to its reformatted counterpart. There's just something about the stereotypically rigid British approach to emotion that makes a funeral such a curious event. On one hand everyone is mourning a recently passed loved one while at the same time attempting to keep the stiff upper lip that dignified etiquette requires. It's that aspect of British culture which made the original Death at a Funeral laugh-out-loud funny, because the happenings elicited such wild responses and were so out of character. In contrast, the American take, which uses the same story and plot points, seems less absurd because Americans are known for being louder and more raucous. The remake might have made the story more appetizing for domestic audiences, but you just can't reproduce the cast dynamics of the original.

The story goes something like this: the patriarch of a family dies and the estranged siblings, mother, and extended family come together to celebrate their father’s life – only to encounter a snag or two, or three…or twelve.  Aside from a midget with a dastardly mission, a step-brother on hallucinogenic drugs and envy between two brothers – everything goes quite smoothly; which is to say chaos erupts.

With so many characters filling the screen the best performances come from the younger actors in the crowd.  Matthew Mcfadyen, Alan Tudyk, Kris Marshall, Keeley Hawes, Ewen Bremner, Rupert Graves and Peter Dinklage essentially carry the movie with everyone else as bit parts.  As Daniel (Mcfadyen) and Robert (Graves) deal with paying for the funeral their sister deals with her husband (Tudyk) suffering from the side effects of drugs taken from Troy’s (Marshall) house - side effects that lead him to nudity atop the family’s house.  All the while, the two brothers must deal with an interesting proposition offered to them by the mysterious guest played by Dinklage.  As the movie reaches a climax it’s hard to keep everything straight, which is exactly what makes the movie work.

None of the jokes or gags are particularly hilarious but the combined force of all the jokes mashed together at such a frenzied pace raises everything up a few notches into a sort of comedy by attrition. If you attempt to resist, the film will just take longer to break you down, but it will get you eventually because there's just so much comedy gold flying around that it's hard not to find a nugget or two to your liking.

Tudyk truly is hilarious as a hallucinating fool – and the way people react to him is equally so.  Beyond that, Rupert Graves deserves special mention for pulling off the part of the celebrity brother who’s made it big and lost sight of family. His delivery of every line was perfect, dancing between the false modest of fame and the dormant immaturity that resurfaces when they reunite with siblings. The interactions of Mcfadyen and Graves really give the film another level of credibility. Mcfadyen does well considering he essentially plays the straight man to about five or six characters on the verge of losing their minds, tempers, or lives, and yet his reactions offer just as much comedy as the absurd events unfolding around him.

Do you like British comedy?  If not, steer clear as the comedy is nowhere near as blunt and obvious as Americans prefer, except for Tudyk's hallucinating bits – that’s just funny for everyone.  Other than that, Death at a Funeral will probably leave most American viewers feeling somewhat cold save for those with a taste for the dry wit of a Brit.  If you like the British comedic stylings then by all means seek it out.

Even though the film lacks in the explosions department, the detailed decor of the house and the lush garden which form the backdrop for the film make the HD experience of the film quite impressive. The depth makes the characters appeal startlingly lifelike at times.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Two stellar audio commentary tracks, one with Director Frank Oz and the other with Writer Dean Craig and Alan Tudyk and Andy Nyman (who make the commentary hilarious), deserve a listen, and don't be surprised if you revisit the latter of the tracks. A decent gag reel rounds out the disc.

"Death at a Funeral" is on sale June 7, 2011 and is rated R. Comedy. Directed by Frank Oz. Written by Dean Craig. Starring Alan Tudyk, Ewen Bremner, Keeley Hawes, Kris Marshall, Matthew Mcfadyen, Peter Dinklage, Rupert Graves.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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