Wednesday 12 September 2018

Movie Review: Death At A Funeral (2007)

An English farce, Death At A Funeral creates enjoyable mayhem at a sombre family gathering.

In suburban England, a family gathers at the home of Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) and Jane (Keeley Hawes) for the funeral service of Daniel's father. Daniel is stressed about delivering the eulogy, with Jane incessantly nagging him about putting a deposit on a flat in London they want to move into.

The attendees include Daniel's brother Robert (Rupert Graves), a successful New York-based writer, and their cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan), along with Martha's father Victor (Peter Egan), boyfriend Simon (Alan Tudyk) and brother Troy (Kris Marshall). Victor very much disapproves of Simon, while Troy dabbles in exotic hallucinogens, and hurriedly hides some pills in a Valium-labelled bottle. Martha gives one of the pills to Simon, and soon he is on an acid trip.

Family friend Howard (Andy Nyman) also attends, bringing with him Justin (Ewen Bremner), who is lusting after Martha, and the wheelchair-bound foul-mouthed Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan). The mysterious Peter (Peter Dinklage) shows up to the service uninvited. Simon's erratic behaviour throws the event into disarray as soon at it starts. Long-standing fissures between family members are revealed, and before long Peter explains who he is, triggering pandemonium.

Directed by Frank Oz and written by Dean Craig, Death At A Funeral is a brisk 90 minutes of often hilarious comedy. Featuring an ensemble cast with no star names, one location and a couple of sets, the film efficiently introduces the characters and quickly launches into the madness.

The case of Troy's mislabeled drugs is central to much of the amusement, with Simon the principal victim, his hallucinations and erratic under-the-influence behaviour a trigger for many of the film's highlights. Slightly less successful but still effective is the crunchy sub-plot featuring the mysterious Peter, who has dwarfism. Once he reveals his relationship to the deceased the film takes off in pursuit of new lunacy featuring blackmail, hostage-taking, and a crowded coffin.

Uncle Alfie provides running abrasive commentary and bathroom (literally) humour, while many undercurrents of tension crisscross the gathering: Daniel and Robert have unresolved money and jealousy issues, Jane is whining about the wrong thing at the wrong time, Justin is incessantly hounding Martha, who has to protect Simon, her would-be fiancé (should he survive his bout with drugs) from her father's unequivocal disdain.

With so much going on of course not all the jokes land and there are some lulls. But Oz maintains a frantic pace, the cast members are uniformly committed, and no moments are wasted. Death At A Funeral rocks the casket.

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