Death at a Funeral (2007) – Review

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Starring: Matthew Macfayden, Keeley Hawes, Andy Nyman, Ewan Bremner, Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Jane Asher, Kris Marshall, Rupert Graves, Peter Vaughan, Thomas Wheatley, Peter Egan and Peter Dinklage
Written for the screen by: Dean Craig
Directed by: Frank Oz
Metacritic Score: 67
IMDb Score: 7.4

Rated R for language, drug content and nudity

Call this a “getting caught up” review. Way back in 2007, Death at a Funeral got some decent traction in the United States for being a farcical, hilarious black comedy. It also managed to get on some Top Ten critics list and it made $9 million dollars alone in the U.S., enough to cover it’s budget. So, while trying to watch Roman Holiday and failing to do so (the stream quality on the service I was using was awful), I managed to see it on Hulu and decided to check it out.

Daniel (Macfayden) is the main organizer of his father’s funeral, making sure everyone in the family is here and that the service goes down smoothly. Of course, that doesn’t happen, leading to all sorts of chaotic happenings, including the secret gay lover of his father (Dinklage) popping up to out his deceased father, unless he’s payed a tidy sum of cash.

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 When the film was released back in 2007, it was being billed as one of the funniest black comedies to come out that year. Now, either black (or dark) comedies have significantly changed in the past 7 years or I may have just become a much darker person in reality, because this didn’t feel like a dark comedy at all. By it’s definition, Death at a Funeral is a dark comedy: it’s farcical, the film is brimmed with morbidity used as comedic fodder and it also takes some serious issues, such as death, drug abuse and kidnapping, and makes it all part of the punchline.

Yet, this isn’t a dark comedy. This is a very silly physical comedy that uses the aforementioned elements as part of its slapstick. Is it funny?  Yes, but other comedies have used these elements much better, especially in dark comedies such as This is the End and Birdman. 

The very first moments of the film is a punchline over the delivery of the deceased, which is chuckle worthy at best. Like this joke, most of the film’s comedy is just chuckle worthy to be enjoyable. There really isn’t any gut busting, over the top hilarious moments, save for Alan Tudyk’s character in the film, but for reasons that are kind of obvious once the first 10 minutes of the film rolls through.

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In fact, much of the film is incredibly telegraphed: character arcs are simple, jokes have typical punchlines, character development is minimal enough to let it the film pass. What’s strange about the film is that the telegraphed nature of the film doesn’t lend itself to dark humor at all. It feels more like a typical family/romantic comedy template was used, then suddenly it was all set at a funeral.

This becomes especially surprising with the pedigree directing the film: Frank Oz. He’s made some of the best comedies made in the past 30 years: Bowfinger, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?, In & Out. This guy can direct comedies into charming, hilarious classics. In this, the direction seems fairly automated: nothing that stands out in terms of tone, shot composition or just a faint of difference in comparison to other comedies.

The automated feel of the film goes right along with the actors as well. We have the straight forward foil, the all too successful and self centered brother, the doting wife, the uptight sister with the really uptight father, the young man who peddles drugs, the poor soul who ends up taking the drugs on accident. All of them play exactly what they have to play without any sense of owning the character or making it their own.

Yet, two standouts in performances do land in the film quite well. Alan Tudyk’s performance of the poor sap who accidentally takes hallucinogenic pills, though they are for the most obvious reasons. The scenes of him getting whacked out through the film are definite highlights in the film.

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The other performance goes to, of course, Peter Dinklage as the deceased’s secret gay little person lover. Most of the time, however, he’s quiet, subdued or tied up and gagged, but his role in the film is still pretty funny to watch.

And, really, the movie is just passable at worst, enjoyable at best. It’s not a bad film, it’s not a great film: it’s just a utilitarian film. You know what you’re getting into in the first 10 minutes and by then, you will know if you will find the film watchable. The only disappointment in the film is how particularly pedestrian the whole affair is. And, of course, that a master comedic director did the film and didn’t come out nearly as good as his previous films.

2.5/5 – Tudyk and Dinklage withstanding, this film is a by-the-numbers typical farce disguised as a dark comedy. 

The Wiz Says #38

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