Dir. Frank Oz. UK. 2007. 90mins.
Death At A Funeral reprises the old formula of assembling a raucous ensemble comedy from the mourners at a respectable upper middle-class funeral that comes unwound. Dysfunction becomes delirium, fuelled here by hallucinogens and the dead man's gay lover, a dwarf. The bawdy farce then turns wholesome, offering some well-meaning lessons about tolerance.
In the US this comedy is sure to be measured against stalwarts like Waking Ned Devine that mock the ritual of a memorial service to skewer the respectability out of family life. While the movie falls well short of those standards, its manic pace and inane characters generally sustain the laughs.
The title alone could help draw an audience in the US, where it opens in mid August after festival play, since quirky British humour tends to bring in the over-forty audience of men and women. One liability is the lack of major star power. Among the film's few actors who'll be familiar to the American public is Peter Dinklage - and more Americans know Dinklage on screen than know his name.
Since much of its humour is broadly physical - and raunchy enough to communicate without subtitles - the foreign audience for Death At A Funeral could be strong. So could for the home video audience for another send-up of British propriety.
Frank Oz's workmanlike direction does not bring much more to the family farce than what is in the serviceable script by Dean Craig, whose last produced scenario was for Caffeine, a sex comedy with an ensemble cast set in a London cafe. The laughs in Craig's script rely on situations more than witty dialogue.
The film's spark, such as it is, comes from its performances and from improbable situations that drive the action. (We begin with a wrong-coffin gag.) Daniel (Macfadyen) is the lacklustre son who presides over the event to which his mother's-pet handsome novelist brother (Graves) arrives, traveling first-class from New York.
Alan Tudyk (Knocked Up) is endearing as Simon, the pathetic lawyer who avoids a collision en route with his ballsy girlfriend Martha (Donovan) to his first meeting with her imperious family. She treats his frayed nerves with what she thinks is valium swiped from a bottle on the table in the house of her brother, a pharmacy student who sells drugs. The pills are hallucinogens, which send Simon on a tear during which he stops the funeral service and climbs nude to the roof of the house. Several other characters will ingest that same drug as the action progresses.
Dwarves can always liven up this kind of comedy, and Peter Dinklage does it as both an actor and a prop. An inept blackmailer as the departed's gay lover, complete with incriminating photographs, Dinklage becomes the corpse that needs to be hidden once he's bound and assumed to be dead. His 'resurrection' is one of the film's crescendos.
Andy Nyman plays a hypochondriac cousin and Ewen Bremner is appropriately slimy as a veteran of a one-night stand with Martha, who reignites his hormones when he sees her.
The production design by Michael Howells fills a family home with objects that amplify the story, including an office lined with pictures of handsome or nude men that belonged to the dead paterfamilias whom no one suspected of being gay.
As might be expected, action in the warren-like house leads eventually to the toilet, another fount of glee for this kind of film. It becomes the seat from which the frenzied action is observed by nasty old Uncle Alfie, played with devilish conviction by Peter Vaughan.
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
Stable Way Entertainment
VIP Medienfonds 1+2