Thursday, August 21, 2008

review: death at a funeral

dir. Frank Oz, 2007

In real life, it is difficult to get laughs at a funeral; in the movies, it's somewhat easy. Chaos set against the backdrop of a typically somber event is a fairly common base for a comedy writer's recipe. Consider, though, that onions, carrots, and celery are common to many soups. It is the additional ingredients, both familiar and unfamiliar, that determine how tasty the final dish will be.

Death at a Funeral has an air of predictability because it works within the comic formula of presenting its audience with a number of "uh-oh" moments. We know that trouble is ahead when a character, on his way to the funeral, takes a pill that he thinks is Valium but is, in fact, a narcotic hallucinogen: "Uh-oh!!!" What takes us by surprise, if a film's ingredients are fresh, is the manner in which these "uh-oh" scenarios play out. Alan Tudyk, for instance, gives a rather broad performance as the LSD-dosed character, but his elastic physicality and priceless facial expressions elicit more hysterics than one might expect from a somewhat conventional series of gags.

Even more outrageous is the thread involving actor Peter Dinklage , whose character work is always compelling enough to ensure that his diminutive stature is never exploited for cheap laughs. Dinklage is quickly establishing himself both as one of cinema's greatest treasures and as one of my all-time favourite performers. He doesn't disappoint in this role as a stranger to the family whose relationship with the deceased threatens to disrupt the solemn funeral proceedings if divulged.

Save for the two aforementioned actors, the cast of Death at a Funeral is predominantly British, and the script was inked by two English blokes, as well. Some of the dark humour reflects the film's place of origin, but it is not so steeped in the UK sensibility as to seem foreign to some North American viewers (a la Monty Python, for instance). Director Frank Oz is, of course USA born, and has a fair amount of experience in the field of making quirky but accessible comedies. While some of his movies (Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?) are certainly better than others (HouseSitter, and blech The Stepford Wives), he has successfully flavoured this little picture with all the right spices.

what you might like: The film opens with a great gag that really sets the tone of the picture. After that, it seems for a while as if everything is a bit too familiar. Stick with it, though. As Death at a Funeral approaches its climax, it provides some of the most laugh-out-loud material you are likely to have encountered in some time. (I suggest watching it with others... The laughter is contagious).

what you might not like: There's no accounting for taste. I know that a small contingent of viewers will find the content and language offensive. If you tend to err conservatively, you may want to avoid this picture (although, I imagine one would have to be pretty uptight to not succumb to its offbeat charms).

what you might consider: Now that it is widely available on DVD, Death at a Funeral is easy to find and worthy of your rental dollars. It deserves some word-of-mouth recommendations, and I think you will find yourself eager to share the guffaws.

links to imdb:
Death at a Funeral
Frank Oz
Peter Dinklage

1 comment:

RC said...

i really enjoy peter dinklage, especially in The Station Agent.