Death at a Funeral
Film review by: Witney Seibold
“Death at a Funeral.” I suppose it’s friendly and well-meaning enough. The comic timing is good, the performances are given with gusto, and it’s earnest desire to be a full-blown British bedroom-door farce is even a little endearing. “Death at a Funeral” is like a puppy. It barks and wiggles and rubs against you, so very much wanting to be loved. Even if that means drooling on you a little. The problem is it never really gets past that level of well-intentioned friendliness. It jokes ands joshes and amuses you, but never breaks into that plane of gut-busting hilarity that it so desperately is striving for.
The story will either be too long or too brief, so let me see if I can achieve a happy medium without giving away too much. Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) is about to bury his father, and needs half the funeral costs from his expatriate brother (Rupert Graves) who hasn’t any money at all. Martha (Daisy Donovan) has accidentally given her fiancée (Alan Tudyk) a hallucinogen, and must talk him down. Two slugabeds (Andy Nyman and Ewan Bremner) are in charge of the blabbermouth cantankerous uncle (Peter Vaughan) and would rather be flirting with the cute funeral guests. Daniel has also been approached by a mysterious American (Peter Dinklage, very good as always) about some of his dead father’s past affairs. Doors are slammed, truths come to light, and everyone must remain calm in that inscrutable British way, as this is a funeral after all.
It’s pretty obvious that the screenwriter, Dean Craig, wanted to make a stage production. The action is largely contained in one house, and each of the stories seems to follow the usual slow burn of the classic farce, all heading, inevitably, toward the glorious crashing point when everything tumbles down and all the truths come to light at the worst moment, only to be saved by a) a well-thought-out scheme (as in P.G. Wodehouse, b) the strength of a single character (as in Oscar Wilde), or c) an even wackier dues ex machina (as in, I dunno, any given dinner theater). In “Death at a Funeral,” it’s b.
By translating it to film, though, director Frank Oz has robbed the film of a lot of its potential frantic energy. Some of said energy is still on the screen, but without live actors getting tired in front of us, the farce seems less like a solid genre and more like a filmic style exercise. By the time the Big Speech arrives at the end, and all the emotional redemption is thrust at us willy-nilly, it feels less like a release of all the frantic tension, and more a relief that we’ll be able to go home soon.