A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Death at a Funeral (2007)

July 22, 2010

Death at a Funeral (2007)

Working, as I did, in a video store, I was exposed to a lot of people whose opinions regarding movies I came to respect. These were people with whom I’d have long conversations about great films. When these conversations turned to great recent British comedies they generally agreed that there were a few stand out gems that blew everything else away. Films like The Full Monty, Keeping Mum and Waking Ned Devine. And in amongst that rarefied strata one title started appearing a couple years ago which I never got a chance to watch. Until today.

I can see why so many people raved about it now. Nothing makes for great humor (or should it be humour) than a vast family of horribly repressed British people forced by circumstance to endure each others’ company. (I’ll probably hit that point again when we get around to reviewing The Norman Conquests.) And then add to that the magic of Frank Oz, and you have guaranteed comedy gold. Remember – Frank isn’t just Miss Piggy, he’s the director of such great films as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Little Shop of Horrors musical and What About Bob. He really knows how to wring laughs from an audience.

And this movie does bring on the laughs. It’s got broad and crazy strokes of outrageous humor (such as Alan Tudyk’s unfortunate character Simon, who is dreading so much being at a funeral with his girlfriend’s father that he has a panic attack – so she gives him some Valium to calm down… except that it’s NOT Valium.) But the movie is actually at its funniest during quiet moments of desperation when absolutely everything seems to be falling apart.

Let me back up a little bit and introduce the cast of characters. The lead is Daniel, who is trying his level best to hold a respectful funeral for his dead father. His wife Jane wants the two of them to move out of his parents’ huge country house so they don’t have to be saddled with caring for his mother. His irresponsible brother is Neil Gaiman – I mean Robert: a successful long haired author dressed all in black who has moved off to live in America. (Only maybe he’s not so successful as all that, since he seems to be flat broke.) Daniel’s cousins Martha and Troy are there too – along with Martha’s boyfriend Simon (the aforementioned hapless Alan Tudyk.) Then there’s Howard (who doesn’t seem to have any reason to be there except as a chauffeur for the nasty tempered Uncle Alfie) and his mate Justin, who has come along because he has a thing for Martha.

Of course all these characters have baggage of some sort. There’s the hatred that Martha’s father (Daniel’s uncle) bears towards Simon. There’s a lot of friction between Daniel and Robert (because Daniel is tired of being responsible, and he thought Robert was going to help pay for the funeral before discovering that Robert is utterly skint.) Martha’s brother Troy spends most of the movie trying to recover the bottle of “Valium” that he brought to the funeral for a friend which is, in fact, a potent hallucinogen of his own manufacture. The attending priest is in a hurry to get somewhere (though it’s never explained just where,) Justin is pissed because Martha blows him off every time she sees him, and Howard seems to be somewhat of a hypochondriac, for whom a funeral is a reminder of his own mortality.

Then there’s Peter – a mysterious stranger who shows up at the funeral but whom nobody actually knows. It transpires that he knew Daniel’s father. Very well. (A side note: I really enjoyed Peter Dinklage’s performance as the enigmatic Peter. It’s a strange character, and I like that for the most part he plays him with a kind of desperate sincerity. Even when the character of Peter is being a bit of a dick the performance leaves you feeling a little sympathetic for him.)

And… that’s pretty much all you need to know. It’s a bunch of people forced together during trying times and all wound too tight with proper British decorum, and you know from the start that the whole thing is set to explode. There will be strange revelations, bizarre drugged out capering, blackmail and murder! (Well, maybe not murder.) The whole movie has a kind of pent up energy, and part of the fun of watching it is wondering just what is going to break loose and fly apart next.

Like I said before: there is some laugh-out-loud physical humor (particularly on the part of Andy Nyman, who plays Howard with a kind of desperate quiet panic that I couldn’t help laughing at, and Alan Tudyk, who is given license to be just as crazy as he could ever want to be.) But the moments that made me laugh most were the moments of quiet anticipation and dread. Moments when you just knew that things were about to go hilariously wrong and could see on the faces of the characters in the film that they knew it as well. I felt slightly guilty that I was laughing at impending misfortune, but I really couldn’t help it.

If you watch the out-take reel you get the distinct impression that nobody on the set could help laughing either. Particularly Frank Oz, whose distinctive laugh fills the reel. It must have been hard to work with him sometimes.

July 22, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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