DEATH AT A FUNERAL
British comedies, for me, are usually all or nothing. I’m a big fan, though, of dramatic players working inside ensemble comedies, and that is what led me to Death at a Funeral. Not only did the film feature Alan Tudyk, a favorite of mine since his appearance in A Knight’s Tale, but also the always-superb Matthew MacFadyen, whom I first discovered on the British spy drama Spooks (known in America as MI-5). I knew nothing of the premise, other than its setting at a funeral, but the trailer featured laugh-out-loud moments by Tudyk and priceless expressions on the face of MacFadyen, so I was sold. Unfortunately, those turned out to be the best moments in the movie.
The film, directed by Frank Oz, takes place at a funeral for the father of MacFadyen’s character, but there is much setup of characters at the beginning of the film, and even more setup of situations. And none of these situations lend themselves to the central crisis, which comes from a mysterious visitor who threatens to expose a secret about the deceased patriarch. Everything that ensues — and much chaos does ensue — is simply for comic effect and has little to do with the premise of the film. In fact, the “plot” isn’t important to the film at all. Instead, the viewer is given access to a large family gathering full of eccentric relatives and ridiculous situations that must eventually reach a climax. From this angle, the film is actually quite hilarious and fully relatable. I could see myself in this family, running around like crazy to solve a problem that threatened to ruin everything planned for the day. And this actually helped make the film enjoyable to me, in the end.
I cannot recommend this film to just anyone, and the “secret” is a big red flag for me, but the performances by Tudyk (whose character spends the entire film in a hallucinogenic state), MacFadyen (as the eldest brother trying to restore some dignity to the day) and Rupert Graves (as the more-successful younger brother who is down on his luck) made this film tolerable to the end. It is not nearly the best I’ve seen, but it is worthy of the viewing for the players involved, with one notable exception: skip the gross-out scene with Uncle Alfie in the bathroom. There really is no reason to go there.
image from Rotten Tomatoes