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Review: Death at a Funeral (2007)

July 23, 2008

“Death at a Funeral” is filled with gallows humor, slapstick ridiculousness, and no less than a hundred amusing lines delivered in a complete deadpan. It’s a film you see because you want a collection of cheap laughs delivered at regular intervals, and because you want to see Alan Tudyk in the all-together [all back shots, sadly, but very nice back shots].

There are parts of “Death at a Funeral” that fall flat, specifically a five minute scene about an elderly relative needing someone to take him to the bathroom. It gets just as disgusting as you’re imagining, and while that’s certainly a laugh for people with a truly toilet-attuned sense of humor, I just cringed and looked away. The tension between the brothers [played by Matthew Macfayden and Rupert Graves] seemed tacked on to add a bit of drama to a film that spends its time trying so hard to be as funny and wacky as it possibly can. The movie throws out half a dozen threads of possible plot and tension that it never properly ties off, and goes out of its depth every time it tries to move out of the farce genre.

Peter Dinklage, a personal favorite, gets underused in a role that is to be expected in any farce dealing with a family death. He is the skeleton in the closet, the dark, dirty secret that only ever comes out, in movies, at funerals. He gives it the best he’s got, and even gets in a couple of good lines, but is pretty much left to flounder in the midst of a plot device that’s so obvious I spent the first twenty-five minutes of the movie wondering when it was going to show up. There’s a bevy of other characters underused in a similar fashion, and to go on about where they started and how they stalled would be completely uninteresting and a waste of perfectly good internet space.

So let’s change gears and talk about the upside: Alan Tudyk is on the scene to bring in the big laughs. He plays a man named Simon, going to the funeral with his girlfriend because she thinks it will impress her disapproving father. Before their entire plotline becomes one overused and outdated sitcom joke, poor Simon gets dosed with a raging hallucinogenic and spends the majority of his time in the film spouting complete nonsense and walking around naked. If there is an actor built to deliver ridiculous lines in a believable manner, it’s Alan Tudyk. He has an affable, confident delivery that just makes you want to go along with the joke because he seems to be having such a good time.

Matthew Macfayden also gets his share of very fun moments, starting at the beginning of the film when he informs the undertakers that they’ve made an error in the casket. When he’s not bogged down with Rupert Graves in their unneeded brotherly tension, he shines with dry wit. Peter Vaughan plays the semi-senile and bitter Uncle Alfie with great fire when he’s not being forced to yell for help in the bathroom.

“Death at a Funeral” has plenty of strong, funny moments that bookend tired, unnecessarily dramatic moments, and the funny moments are enough to recommend the movie. There’s a good deal of laughter to be taken from this film, both in deadpan and utter silliness, and that’s more than can be said for a great deal of recent comedies. See it, enjoy it, and have fun talking about how green things are for the next few days.

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