Death at a Funeral (2007) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language, sexual humor, crude humor, brief nudity and drug content
Running time: 90 min.

Cast: Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Andy Nyman, Ewen Bremmer, Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Peter Dinklage, Jane Asher, Kris Marshall, Rupert Graves, Peter Vaughan, Thomas Wheatley, Peter Egan
Director: Frank Oz
Screenplay: Dean Craig

Review published November 5, 2007

Contrary to industry belief, not everything is funnier when done in a British accent. 

Director Frank Oz (The Stepford Wives, The Score) continues his streak of farces with Death at a Funeral, which plays a great deal like a stage play adapted for the big screen.  While Oz's direction is fine as usual, and he is benefited by a very game cast of actors,  almost all of the laughs to be had come from the physical gifts of the actors rather than the story or dialogue in the predictable script by Dean Craig (Caffiene).

Although an ensemble piece, Matthew Macfadyen (Pride & Prejudice, Enigma) is the heart of the film, starring as the eldest son of the recently deceased, who has been struggling with the right words to come up with for his father's eulogy.  It's not just that he is a struggling writer in general, but his younger brother, Robert (Graves, V for Vendetta), is an esteemed best-selling author that everyone expected to be the one to write it.  His confidence is further shot by the mad events that transpire before his intended speech, including receiving the wrong person's coffin, the accidental downing of a hallucinogenic drug by one of the attendants (Tudyk, Serenity), and worst of all, the appearance of a diminutive "friend" (Dinklage, Find Me Guilty) of his father's who claims to have been his longtime companion, who wants money in order not to show graphic photos to the rest of the family irrefutably proving their gay trysts. 

Death at a Funeral will probably deliver what lovers of British farces expect -- a ribald and occasionally raunchy comedy of errors.  It certainly has the right director and cast to evoke some well-earned chuckles, and even when the laughs aren't evident, it's a pleasant enough watch.  However, unlike Oz's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?, and Bowfinger, this film never quite takes hold the way a farce should in order to pile laughs upon laughs.  A great deal of time is given to Alan Tudyk, who delivers well in a mock Brit accent, who is suffering greatly from a reaction to the acid accidentally swallowed.  He's funny in the role, but the role itself isn't written with a great degree of comedic flair.

I think the one ingredient that makes for successful ensemble farces comes when all of the antics come together to constantly shift one another in an out of control fashion.  All of these side stories come together when members of the family enter upon a room where daddy's gay lover is being restrained for fear of an inappropriate outing of the deceased that would mar the man's image in the eyes of his very reserved family.  Unfortunately, this convergence does not evoke anything funny in and of itself, despite the fact that the bickering and yelling escalates in typically madcap fashion.  Farces need situations and characters traversing through difficult hoops to achieve momentum for big laughs.  While there are comic situations and character difficulties, Craig never quite puts them together in a fashion that allow them to build on top of one another to have audiences gasping from breath from laughter.  Oz tries to put the "fun" in "funeral", but the patriarch's body isn't the only thing stiff in this marginal misfire.  Lifeless, and largely laugh-less.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo