A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Death at a Funeral (2010)

June 28, 2011

Death at a Funeral (2010)

This is a very strange experience. Since we watched the 2007 original version of this movie for our project we have watched it a couple more times, and we’ve come to enjoy it as a new favorite. We’ve seen it with Amanda’s parents and with some of our friends. We might not know every line yet the way we do with our all time favorite movies, but it’s fast approaching that level. As a result it’s very odd to see this American re-make of the film, which is scene for scene very faithful to the original.

I can’t help reviewing this movie more as a re-make than on its own merits. It’s so incredibly close to the original version, which just highlights the differences and alterations made to appeal to American audiences. Right from the very first scene it’s clear that although the script is virtually identical and every character is the same this is a disorientingly different movie. In the first scene Aaron is waiting for the funeral home director to deliver his father’s body for the titular funeral. In a mix-up that indicates just how everything is going to go wrong for Aaron on this day the corpse delivered into his living room is not his father. Now in the British version the funeral director admits his mistake and beats a hurried retreat. In the American version there’s a confrontation, the funeral director refuses at first to admit that there’s been any mix up, then he reassures Aaron that this sort of thing hardly ever happens – he’s pretty sure he knows where the body really is (it’s in one of two places) and then he thinks he’s lost his keys.

In my review for the original I said that it got much of its humor from the tension of knowing that some great new disaster was about to happen. This movie, by contrast, is a collection of great comedians all trying desperately to steal scenes from each other. Every line has to be a punchline and every performance has to be bigger and funnier. The end result is that there’s a feel of desperation to this film – as though it’s trying frantically to make you laugh rather than just relying on the solid script and the embarrassment of family forced together.

The plot is, as I said, almost exactly the same. Chris Rock plays Aaron, the responsible brother who has been living at home with his parents (in their enormous mansion somewhere just outside of LA.) His father has passed away and all his relatives and some family friends as well have come together for the funeral. There’s his hysterical mother, who can’t stop crying dramatically whenever death comes up in conversation. There’s the irresponsible younger brother Ryan (played by Martin Lawrence) who is a well respected author living in New York with money problems. There’s a pair of angry uncles, one a wheelchair bound curmudgeon and one a wealthy but bitter doctor. There’s cousin Elaine and her fiance Oscar and her brother Jeff the student pharmacist. There’s Aaron’s dimwitted friend Norman and his pal Derek who tags along in hopes of seeing Elaine. And there’s Peter Dinklage reprising his role as the father’s blackmailing secret lover.

What’s interesting here is that the biggest names in the cast are in supporting and generally unfunny roles. Chris Rock is very much the straight man who has to be stoic and maintain his dignity in the face of the madness surrounding him. Martin Lawrence plays his character as egomaniacal and sleazy, but doesn’t really get to crack wise much. Zoe Saldana, as Elaine, is probably the most level-headed person in the entire movie. Tracy Morgan’s character Norman is supposed to be bumbling comic relief, but his performance didn’t stand out for me.

Most of the laughs in the movie come from the many ancillary characters. These are my favorite parts of the movie. James Marsden plays the role of the anxious fiance Oscar who inadvertently takes a heavy duty hallucinogen instead of Valium. It’s the role that Alan Tudyk played in the first movie and both of them are hilarious in the part. It’s largely improvised I think, and they’re given free reign to go as mad as they want to. Danny Glover is the irascible invalid uncle Russell, and it never stops being funny to see him beating people with his cane and yelling at them.

It’s perhaps most fascinating to see Peter Dinklage performing exactly the same role as he did in the 2007 movie. It’s line-for-line exactly the same character (except that instead of a fancy dress party it’s pictures of a Dreamgirls premier that he has pictures of.) Even his costume is the same (only this time he has the beginnings of a goatee.) In keeping with the general amped up tone of the rest of the film he’s a little more insane when his character is high on hallucinogens, but otherwise it’s largely the same role. It says something about the impact he made in the first movie that the producers of this one couldn’t find anybody else to fill his shoes, but I’d imagine that it must have been hard for him to keep the character fresh.

I admit that I didn’t like this version of the movie as much as I did the original. It’s trying too hard to be funny instead of building that repressed English tension that made me laugh so much at the first one. It’s more zany and less restrained. My preference is entirely a matter of personal opinion though, and probably influenced by the fact that I saw the other one first. Perhaps if I were more familiar with this one I would have reviewed the other from a different perspective. As it was however although I got a few good laughs out of the 2010 movie and really enjoyed some of the performances and actors in it (always a pleasure to see Ron Glass for example) it mostly just made me want to put the 2007 one in when I was done. Which is exactly what we did.

June 28, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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