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Friday, August 1, 2008

Review: Death At A Funeral (2007)

* *

Director: Frank Oz
Starring: Matthew MacFadyen, Rupert Graves, Peter Dinklage

The wacky family comedy is by now a genre in and of itself, with selections ranging from the very good to the horrifically bad. Death At A Funeral falls somewhere in the middle, having elements that are very funny and other elements that just... are. The basic structure isn’t terribly original: the solid older sibling laden down with family responsibility and the irresponsible younger sibling who seems to drift in and out of the family for holidays and special occasions, the cantankerous older relative, and the family secret that is destined to come out regardless of how hard the protagonist tries to keep it under wraps.

Daniel (Matthew MacFayden) is the glue of his family, the dependable son who has taken care of all the arrangements for his father’s funeral, and who has stayed on at the family house even though his wife (Keeley Hawes) wants desperately to get a place of their own. Younger brother Robert (Rupert Graves) is a novelist who lives in New York and who, despite his success, can’t be bothered to chip in and help pay for the funeral, as he had previously promised Daniel. The relationship between the two brothers is central to the story and surrounded by the relationships of various cousins, particularly that of Martha (Daisy Donovan) and her fiancĂ©e Simon (Alan Tudyk), whose nervousness about having to spend time with Martha’s father is the catalyst for the film’s best running gag.

The establishing scenes are good and up until about the middle of the story, it’s an enjoyable film. But when it comes to the revelation about Peter (Peter Dinklage) and his relationship to the deceaced, the story takes a turn which really dragged it down for me. It isn’t just the nature of the revelation – characterized here as the worst possible thing that could be revealed about someone – that bothered me, but also the fact that once the revelation is made, the plot unfolds in a very by the book fashion.

While the film itself is mostly funny, there are a lot of things about it that just really bugged me, particularly with regard to the way the characters relate to each other. What wife, for example, would continuously hassle her husband about buying a house on the day of his father’s funeral, when he’s clearly already weighted down with stress not just about the death itself, but about having to deliver the eulogy? And who, regardless of how uncouth, would attempt to make conversation with the widow by telling her a story about someone being horrifically murdered? To me this just reeks of lazy writing, an easy way to create conflict and to get a laugh, respectively.

Death At A Funeral isn’t an awful movie, but it isn’t an especially good one either. It’s average in just about every way, with Tudyk being the only member of the cast who really stands out by virtue of the fact that his character spends almost the entire movie in an altered state of consciousness.

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