Thursday, August 23, 2007
The first thing to go wrong at the funeral that Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) has been tasked with overseeing is that the wrong body has been delivered. A stranger rather than his father arrives and must be quickly sent back. Then there's Daniel's mum (a still lovely Jane Asher) who's barely maintaining an even keel through her sorrow; his self-absorbed and highly successful brother (Rupert Graves); his rebellious sister (Daisy Donovan); and a mysterious little man (Peter Dinklage) who wants to reveal something about Daniel's father. And just to add a little excitement to the proceedings, sis' boyfriend (Alan Tudyk) was accidentally given a few hallucinogenic drugs that have prompted him to strip down and go au natural at the ceremony, which must strain more and more to maintain the smallest shred of dignity.
Alan Tudyk bares all in Death at a Funeral (MGM)
Watching the polite and reserved facade of an upper class British family slowly give way to chaos and scandal has a certain built in fun factor. As a vocal talent, Frank Oz has created some of the most hilariously humorless characters in the Muppet gallery--from Bert (of Bert and Ernie) to Sam the Eagle. So Oz seems to have some comic insight into how to play the laughs at this somber event. His basic approach is to play it straight, don't let the actors let on to the fact that what they are doing is meant to be funny. This keeps the tone rather dry and doesn't make the odd twists and turns of the plot seem forced.
For the most part, Oz delivers a film that is consistently funny and on a couple of occasions uproarious. Yet the restraint that initially works in its favor ultimately prevents it from really soaring. Although there are some extreme moments toward the end, everything resolves itself a bit too tidily and without the pay off one might expect.
Death at a Funeral (rated R for language and drug content) benefits from having a cast that are actors rather than comedians. This allows the film to build the comedy from the characters rather than from gags and sketch comedy set ups. The film offers diverting entertainment but no one will die laughing in the aisles.
Companion viewing: The Loved One, The Wrong Box, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Six Feet Under