Sunday, December 8, 2013

Death at a Funeral (2007)

Death at a FuneralDirector Frank Oz [aka Oznowicz] was actually born in England, and he was raised in America. A very talented actor, with 104 film appearances on his resume -he also specialized in "voice work". He and Jim Henson created the whole MUPPETS phenomenon. He created multiple characters, the most famous of which were Kermit and Miss Piggy. He is equally well known for being the voice of Yoda for the George Lucas STAR WARS series. As a director he has made 14 films, varying from THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982), through the classic fun of WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991). All the way across the spectrum to the crime thriller, THE SCORE (2001), with Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Marlon Brando. DEATH AT A FUNERAL (2007) represents his triumphant return to comedy; and what a dark and delicious foray it is.

A farce of the first order, this film is about a normally dysfunctional family who are forced to confront each other at a patriarch's funeral. The amazing script was written by Dean Craig. He is a young writer/director with only four films to his credit. In 2003 he gave us DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS. His script for FUNERAL was filled with wafts, even wads of wit, had terrific internal timing, a solid structure and plot, with a delectable and irreverent sense of humor. It is a film so completely farcical that I believe it could be produced on stage, in live theatre. All those slamming doors, crossed-over plotlines, and zany characters would lend themselves to some outrageous theatrical moments.

Attending the film I was happy to give in to the instant giddiness that most of the audience immediately lapsed into -beginning to titter and then guffaw while the opening credits were still rolling. If laughter is the "best medicine", and we all know that it is, then this film should be mandatory viewing, and the tickets should look like a medical prescription pad. Viewing this film is definitely good for "what ails you."

Lost love, mistaken identities, bumbling morticians, caskets that come alive, those terrible and dark secrets regarding the patriarch's "special needs", hallucinogenic bursts of inhibition, nudity, toilet hi-jinks, suppressed sex, unrepressed sex, deviant sex, pregnancy, predispositions and misunderstandings, jealousy, an ice queen for a wife and mother, a Spartacus toga party, a centurion's costume, an unpublished novel, harping, cajoling, bondage, wrestling, roof-romping, with enough turnabouts, fop haws, reversals, and surprises to flesh out three other comedic films, plus a really excellent cast -makes this darkest of drawing room comedies land on its dancing feet somewhere lodged half way between Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, or say George Bernard Shaw and Harold Pinter, who is emulating Carl Reiner, who collaborated with Mel Brooks, after consulting with Woody Allen. This solid little film my not be tinged with "greatness", but it is absolutely the funniest evening I have spend in the theater this year.

Like so many others this viewer avoided the theatrical release and deferred to the DVD release of DEATH AT A FUNERAL, thinking that a comic take on a potentially morbid subject might not be very entertaining. Couldn't have been more wrong! This is the kind of humor the Brits do so well intelligent, expertly delivered dialog and action that can make even the most unlikely situations hilarious. Writer Dean Craig and Director Frank Oz have created a farce and have put this tongue in cheek situation in the hands of some the best of the British actors. The result is a spinning top that only gradually allows the viewer to breathe from laughing during the clever final credits.

The father of a very dysfunctional family has died and son Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) and his wife Jane (Keeley Hawes) have agreed to host the funeral. After the mortuary first delivers the wrong corpse the tone is set for all the wrong things to happen. The arriving family is a bizarre clan of characters a novelist living beyond his means in New York (Rupert Graves), a man who unwittingly mistakes an hallucinogen for Valium and ends up on a trip that entertains all, a 'drug distributor', a crotchety old man with toilet problems, and the usual stuffy and goofy associates that so often populate the British comedies. And when it seems as though little else could support sanity, up pops a figure form the US (Peter Dinklage) with a secret about the deceased and proceeds to cause a situation that becomes the focal point of this zany funeral.

Saying too much about each of the characters diminishes the surprises that abound. Were it not for the fact that each of the actors in the film is 'top drawer' this little movie could have become mawkish or tasteless, but this cast and director have produced one of the most refreshingly funny films of the past year. Grady Harp, February 08

Buy Death at a Funeral (2007) Now

The great thing about DEATH AT A FUNERAL is that there really is something for everyone. From brief bathroom humor to dark jokes, it's all there, laid out by UK-born director Frank Oz.

The title itself is a bit misleading, in that you would think it to be more horror-ish or dramatic. The words "Death" and "Funeral" don't normally make you skip to the theater thinking "Oh boy! Let's go watch this funny movie!" For that, I would fault only the production person who stamped the name on it. But that would be my only one; one which has nothing to do with the rest of this riotously funny film.

Like a snake creeping upon its prey, Death at a Funeral also slowly makes its way along, never lurching or jumping ahead of itself, building the comedic moments one upon the other. Starting out (as all the trailers have shown) with Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) standing in his livingroom, watching his father's coffin being delivered in preparation for a British homestyle service. But once the coffin is open, Daniel states, "That's not my father." The funeral home quickly whisks away the casket and returns with the right one. This gradual sinking in of dark comedy holds the film together exceptionally well.

We're then introduced to the rest of the cast...

Jane (Keeley Hawes, Tristram Shandy A Cock and Bull Story), Daniel's wife who's pressuring him to buy a flat in the city and leave his now widowed mother with his successful brother in New York.

Simon (Alan Tudyk, Serenity), who is arriving at the funeral with his soon-to-be wife and is stressed about meeting (again) his future father-in-law, so is accidentally given a pill thought to be valium but, in reality, turns out to be a powerful hallucinogenic. This sends Simon on a running joke throughout the film, including periods of catatonia, color fascinations, and rooftop nudity.

Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan, KISS KISS BANG BANG), a crotchety old fart who's brought to the funeral in a wheelchair only to find himself with explosively needy bowels and the witness to a possible murder.

Peter (Peter Dinklage), a midget-of-a-man with big life aspirations who comes to the funeral not only to mourn the death of a close "friend," but to also get what "he deserves" from the family.

There are other perpetrators in the film, too, but these are the main ones who's paths cross just about everyone else's.

The film's short 90 minute run time is excellent in that none of the funnies are overdone. They have their moment and are either tossed aside or folded over into the film's grand finale. The number one folding in of jokes has to be the faux-valium pill bottle that gets lost and re-lost only to spring up at the most hilarious moments.

This is a laugh-a-minute film that has perfect comedic timing and crucial usage of British pompous humor, along with dark moments that will make watchers cringe and giggle at the same time.

Read Best Reviews of Death at a Funeral (2007) Here

My husband brought this DVD home from the video store this weekend. He sometimes brings home odd things and certainly the title and cover of this DVD were no exception. I took one look at it, turned up my nose and said "Uggh, I have no interest in seeing this. What in the world caused you to pick it out?" He said, "Oh, it's some British movie and it's supposed to be funny." I gave him a good eyeroll.

I actually missed the first 15 minutes of the movie because I wasn't interested in watching it at all, much less being there from the beginning. Within a minute of sitting down with him though I was laughing hysterically. So hysterically in fact, that our daughter came in from the next room where she was sitting with headphones on, music blaring in her ears, because she could hear us screaming with laughter. When she came in to the room, my husband and I were balled up in fits of tearful laughter and couldn't even talk to her.

When the movie was over, all I could say was "Oh my gosh! That was the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life. I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe and thought I was going to throw up. Then I couldn't sleep because I kept laughing.

Of course, it's not a movie you can talk about at the water cooler because people just won't understand why playing with toilet paper, talking to a deceased man's dwarf lover, or walking on a roof naked are funny. You just have to see it to understand.

Want Death at a Funeral (2007) Discount?

"Death at a Funeral", the new film from director Frank Oz ("In and Out", Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") is a pretty good tribute to the British comedies we used to see with more consistency. A droll, black sense of humor, characters who are as wacky as others are steadfast and the use of a setting we are all familiar with used in an unfamiliar way all help to give this film a whacked out sensibility. But it isn't above moments of crass, bathroom humor and these bring it down.

Daniel (Matthew McFadyen, TV's "MI:5", "Pride & Prejudice") and his wife, Jane (Keely Hawes, TV's "MI:5") are living at home with his father and mother when his father dies. They await the arrival of the rest of the family for the funeral. Soon, the house is filled and they have to deal with all of the craziness in everyone's life. Daniel's brother, John (Rupert Graves), a published writer, flies in from New York, first class, and claims he doesn't have any money to help out with the funeral costs. Martha (Daisy Donovan), Daniel's cousin, and her fiancée, Simon (Alan Tudyk) stop by to pick up her brother, Troy (Kris Marshall, "Love Actually"). Simon is a wreck, because Martha's father has never liked him, so Martha decides to give him a Valium she finds in Troy's apartment. The only problem is that Troy is a minor drug dealer and the Valium is in fact a hallucinogen. Then, Peter (Peter Dinklage, "The Station Agent") shows up for the service. Daniel doesn't recognize him and is surprised when he asks if they can speak alone. Peter reveals some information to the son of the deceased, which causes everything to spiral out of control.

Directed by Frank Oz, an American director and former Muppeteer, "Death at a Funeral" has all the markings on a dark British comedy. It is strange that an American film director would make such a film, but Oz seems to be a good choice; "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" has many similar elements. Despite the broad moments in his comedies, they do share a certain sensibility with the early work or Peter Sellers or Alec Guiness. In "Death", Oz dials down the comedy significantly, making it darker, more subtle, more tongue in cheek, more British.

The mood of the film is set early on. The undertakers arrive with Daniel's father and set the coffin in the viewing room. They open the casket and Daniel looks inside. "Who's that? That's not my father." They have brought the wrong body. They take the casket away and return later with the right body.

The real comedic standout in the film is Alan Tudyk who plays Simon, Martha's nervous fiancée. Just as they arrive at the country estate, the drugs he has unwittingly ingested begin to take hold and he starts to stare at leaves and flowers. Martha doesn't really know what to make of her boyfriend. During the ceremony, he causes a delay and Martha's father, Victor, dislikes him even more. Through the course of the film, Simon becomes more distraught and more unhinged as the full effects of the drug take place.

Simon is the broadest character, but even this is minor when compared to some comedic roles in American films. The major laughs of this character come from his actions in the environment of this country house funeral. Everyone else is trying to remain very proper and respectful as Simon climbs naked on roofs.

Matthew McFadyen and Keely Hawes are both good, but they are basically the straight men for the rest of the cast. Daniel and Jane are trying to maintain an air of respectability, and Daniel's known as the `respectable' (boring) son. When Peter makes himself known to Daniel, Daniel begins to act a bit wacky, but the role is still relatively low key.

As the story progresses and the characters begin to spiral out of control, the action becomes even more funny because people are acting completely at odds to the setting. When you see a large country house in the English countryside, you think everyone will be acting very proper. When they don't, it creates funny situations and a lot of laugher. This is really the key with most great British comedies. They make fun of themselves, planting tongue firmly in cheek and casting their eye on themselves.

"Death at a Funeral" is not a great film. It can't seem to distance itself from scatological humor; an elderly wheelchair bound Uncle (Peter Vaughn) needs help to get to the bathroom and a family friend Howard (Andy Nyman) seems designated to help him. The situation leads to Howard getting feces on his hand and face. Oz seems to think this is funny, but it is just gross and seems completely at odds with the rest of the film.

"Death at a Funeral" is not a laugh a minute, but is a very humorous and enjoyable diversion. It is a film perfectly suited for DVD rental.

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