Monday, June 15, 2015

Movie – Death at a Funeral (2007)

First things first, this review is for the original 2007 U.K version of the film directed by Frank Oz, which had a primarily white British cast, not the 2010 U.S. version directed by Neil Labute which had a primarily black American cast.  The 2010 movie is a remake of the 2007 one.  While the later film kept a lot of the same jokes, I feel the original is funnier.  I will explain why further down.  For now, I want to say that this is a hilarious film.  I laughed my ass off at it.  I’ve given very few pure comedies five stars, but this is one of them.

The premise is that a man has died and his extended family gathers for the service and eulogy at the family home near London.  As you might expect, this means there is a large cast.  The oldest son is Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) and his wife is named Jane (Keeley Hawes).  The two actors are married to each other in real life so this added to their performances.

Both of them were in the process of trying to buy a place of their own and move out of the family home.  His father’s death has thrown a wrench into that because it would mean leaving his mother alone in the house.  She would be alone because the younger brother Robert (Rupert Graves) is a renowned novelist living in New York City.  As much as Daniel feels responsible for everything, Robert feels responsible for nothing.  He even wastes his money on a first class ticket to come to the funeral instead of helping Daniel pay for it.

Also attending are a cousin named Martha (Daisy Donovan) and her fiancé Simon (Alan Tudyk).  Simon is nervous about making a good impression on Martha’s father Victor (Peter Egan).  To help, Martha tries to give him a valium that turns out to be a designer drug that her brother Troy (Kris Marshall) whipped up at college.  It doesn’t take long for it to start affecting Simon.

Then there is Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan), an elderly man in a wheelchair whose purpose in life appears to be to complain when there is no one seeing to his immediate needs.  “Crotchety” would be a polite way to describe him.  “Spawn of Satan” might be the way the two guys who get stuck trying to attend to him might describe him.  Finally, a mysterious stranger named Peter (Peter Dinklage) shows up.  He hangs around looking sad, and now and then tries to get a word in with Daniel, who brushes him off.  No one seems to know who Peter is.

Daniel is brushing Peter off because he is stressing out over writing and practicing the eulogy for his father.  Not helping things is how every single person who finds out that he will be doing the eulogy, rather than his younger brother the writer, expresses disappointment and surprise.

The service starts, but the drug in Simon’s system kicks in for real and he ends up disrupting the funeral big time.  By the time all is said and done he’s naked and on the roof of the house.  While most people are bothering with him, Peter finally corners the brothers Daniel and Robert.  He reveals that he was their father’s lover, and disappointed that he was left out of the will he’s hoping that they can see their way to sharing some of the estate with him.  If not, he just happens to have these pictures of him and their father together “dressed as centurions”.

Daniel and Robert try to subdue Peter and take the pictures away.  They figure it will be easy since Peter is a dwarf.  Along the way, the same drugs in Simon end up in Peter, only in an even larger dose.  Things get really crazy, but as they say, “It’s all fun and games until somebody ends up dead.”  Peter hits his head on the coffee table and they soon realize he has no pulse.  They were worried about it getting out that their father was gay, now they’ve got a much bigger problem - what do you do with one dead body too many at a funeral?

This was one of the films I picked for Steve at 1001plus to review.  (You can read his opinion on it here.)  I mentioned to him I found this funnier than the American remake, even though many of the jokes were the same (and they even cast Peter Dinklage in the same role).  I came to the conclusion that the key factor was the stereotype of the upper class British family being stuck up, reserved, or otherwise expecting everything to be proper all the time.  And then to have all the insane events of this film happen right in the middle of the most solemn event of all – a funeral – and to see all of these people trying to deal with them was just hilarious to me.  Seeing Americans dealing with it in the remake just wasn’t as funny.

MacFadyen does a great job as the older brother who’s putting the weight of the world on his shoulders.  Just as good is Peter Dinklage as the blackmailer.  It’s Alan Tudyk playing the accidentally high as a kite fiancée that steals every shot he is in, though.  There’s one scene where a conversation is going on in the foreground, but the only thing I could see was Tudyk’s machinations in the background.  On the DVD they said that they intentionally put these fake chickens out as lawn ornaments in the background of the scene just because they knew Tudyk would improvise something to do with them – and he did.

I laughed harder at this movie when I saw it than I had any other movie for quite some time.  Yes, the humor is sometimes dark, but boy does it work.  Even if you think you might be put off by the concept of a comedy set at a funeral, I still feel you should see this.  I bet it will make you laugh.  As I said, I’ve given very few pure comedies five stars, but this is one of them.  I give it my highest recommendation.

Chip’s Rating:  5 out of 5 stars


  1. This is a hard movie not to like. One would think that doing comedy at a funeral would force walking a very fine line. Instead, this gleefully jumps over the line and sprints as far as it can. That it manages to do this without being cruel or hateful is even more impressive.

    I agree on Alan Tudyk. He makes the entire film that much better.

    1. Yes, I can remember the movie Clerks shocking some people because it included a joke (offscreen) about the two guys disrupting a funeral by knocking over the coffin. Then this film places it front and center as one of the jokes and gets away with it completely.

  2. I saw this one many years ago during a flight on a seat-back plane, trying hard not to laugh too much, and almost disintegrating into my seat from laughing so hard. I look forward to seeing it again. It strikes me that this film should be better known, it may on par with A Fish Called Wanda in terms of successfully translating British humour to the screen.

    1. Thanks for sharing that story.

      As it happens, A Fish Called Wanda is another of the very few true comedies I've given five stars to.