One more early Death at a Funeral Review

It's obvious the reviewer enjoyed this one. He gave it a letter grade of B+. Be careful reading the review as it is full of spoilers. Read more if you don't mind finding out a lot more of the plot.

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Reviewed for CompuServe by Harvey S. Karten
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
Grade: B+
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written By: Dean Craig
Cast: Matthew MacFadyen, Peter Dinklage, Alan Tudyk, Ewen Bremmer, Rupert Graves
Screened at: Dolby 88, NYC, 4/30/07
Opens: June 29, 2007

Since I still have preserved some long-term memory, I think back to college days, particularly to life in the fraternity house. The big reason for joining such a Greek-letter society is the parties, which were held, oh, about thirty times during an academic year. At any given time there were about 120 members in our fraternity. Some parties had themes: toga; halloween; pig (the less said about that, the better). After seeing Frank Oz’s movie, “Death at a Funeral,” I wondered whether these events could have been enlivened by a funeral theme, maybe several times a year. Say we actually sacrificed one member for each of these parties. Heck, we had too many anyway. Each term we pretend to get rid of one of the less popular guys. In that way, we not only lighten up our roster, but more important we have a really, really fun party, following the model provided by Oz’s movie, as scripted hilariously by Dean Craig.

Craig and Oz’s point is: funerals are not sad. They’re fun. A lot of fun, and in fact, “Death at a Funeral” is a fast-paced, not-one-dull-moment picture that runs like a Feydeau farce but without the French language and almost without the sex (they’re British after all). The sex does comes through toward the end but it’s discreet. The laughs? There’s quite a lot of that–way more than are evoked in Edgar Wright’s highly overrated British comedies “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” It helps if the patrons are uptight Brits, one of whom is loosened up by hallucinogenic drugs. That’s the sort of thing that can have a contagious effect on a party. So can a four-foot stranger who drops a bombshell, as can the seething envy of one brother for a much more successful sibling, and a father intent on breaking up an engagement of his daughter with a man he considers beneath her station. Dysfunction does not occur only in ethnic families such as those in big fat Greek weddings.

The story takes place on a single day, a riotous one, as a family gathers in the home of the deceased to pay respects to a widow, Sandra (Jane Asher), whose husband had just died. The trouble begins when the wrong body is delivered, and continues when one couple has to fight for a parking space. Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen), is already anxiety ridden at having to face his egotistical, more successful brother Robert (Rupert Graves), who is flying in from New York, a major novelist already acclimated to the more casual American way of life. By contrast, Daniel’s cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) hopes she can make an impression with her fiancé Simon (Alan Tudyk) on her conservative father, a plan foiled when Simon unknowingly swallows acid thinking that it’s Valium. When a stranger, Peter (Peter Dinklage) arrives with shocking information and graphic pictures, all hell breaks loose. Family secrets threaten to be disclosed while the brothers, Daniel and Robert, are intent on burying more weighty goods than the poor old dad.

Some characters are so over the top that their antics could be dispensed with, especially the wheelchair- bound Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan), whose emergency need to get to a toilet while unable to do so without help provides for the picture’s one detour into adolescent vulgarity. One-liners come thick-and-fast, told with expert comic timing, including some that may not seem so sharp on the page but work perfectly on the screen. For example, when Howard (Andy Nyman) is intent on delaying the Reverend (Thomas Wheatley) from entering a room and making an embarrassing discovery, he asks a flurry of questions, such as “How is God today?”

“Death at a Funeral” could more aptly be entitled “Life at a Funeral.” It is brimming with brio, a British comedy that travels beautifully across the Atlantic.

Rated R. 90 minutes © 2007 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online