Death at a Funeral
Rated R; Directed by Frank Oz; Starring Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves, Keely Hawes, Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Andy Nyman, Ewen Bremmer, Peter Vaughn
Farce is a genre not often seen in movies these days. The genre requires tickling the funny bones of an audience with the good old standbys – people knowing something that others don’t and trying frantically to not let anyone discover that information, lots of slamming doors, and the most improbable events occurring. Death at a Funeral tries to go the farce route, sometimes succeeds, but at best, is only a near-farce. Of course, when it is acting on full farce power it does achieve those moments of pure hilarious insanity.
Directed by Frank Oz (In and Out, Bowfinger), the British Death at a Funeral gives us a cast of characters who handle the plot developments in a variety of ways, mostly not calmly. There is Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen), hosting his father’s funeral. It’s bad enough that he has to bury his father, but he is always reminded that it is his famous brother, Robert (Rupert Graves), expected to give the eulogy and not Daniel. His wife Jane (Keely Hawes) is after Daniel to complete the business of renting a flat; his mother is more delighted to see darling Robert; the preacher is on a strict time schedule; guest Martha (Daisy Donovan) plans to introduce her nervous fiancée Simon (Alan Tudyk) to her father; Justin (Ewen Bremmer) wants to pick up on Martha; uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughn) is his crotchety old self; and there’s a man (Peter Dinklage) at the funeral who needs to speak with Daniel about something important.
Things get out of control, including Simon accidentally ingesting LSD instead of Valium, and Daniel discovering something unexpected about his father (it’s a great scene when he looks around his father’s study realizing the innocent decorations have a very different meaning). As in any farce, the insanity builds, with bodies falling out of caskets, people acting crazed, and plenty of secrets kept and exposed. It just doesn’t seem to do it as well as expected. This effect may have more to do with seeing “Death at a Funeral” on TV instead of in a theater with an audience that is laughing heartily.
There are moments where the movie takes off, especially with Alan Tudyk’s (Serenity) ability to wring laughter from the most casual physical action. The movie has a wonderful cast, each actor playing their parts perfectly. Frank Oz’s direction deftly captures the reactions of his characters to the madness around them.
With all that is good in the film, why doesn’t it hit the heights? It just seems to take time to get to the high points. Still, those high points are funny. Death at a Funeral partially succeeds at farce, and even done partially it offers insane scenes of the hilarious kind.