August 30, 2007

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Death at a Funeral (R)
A British family gathers to lay to rest their dad but from the moment the funeral home arrives with the wrong coffin it’s nothing but wackiness in Death at a Funeral, a movie that tries to put the “fun” back in “over-used movie conceit.”

Daniel’s (Matthew MacFadyen) father is dead and he is in charge of pulling together a big funeral in the home he shares with his now-widowed mother and his wife Jane (Keeley Hawes), who dearly hopes that now they can finally move out and get their own place. Daniel’s brother Robert (Rupert Graves) has his own place far far away in New York where he is a rich and famous author. Except maybe not so rich — when Daniel asks him to pony up for half the cost of the funeral, Robert says it might take him a few months.

Meanwhile, Daniel’s cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) is headed to the funeral with her secretly drug-dealing brother and her nervous finacee Simon (Alan Tudyk). He takes a couple of what he thinks is Valium on the way to the funeral and only later, once he’s at the funeral sniffing people and taking his clothes off, does he find out that it was acid.

Meanwhile, Daniel’s friends Howard (Andy Nyman) and Justin (Ewen Bremmer) also head to the funeral to help him take care of his crotchety Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan) and to serve as filler characters when a scene requires several people to act crazy at once.

Into this mix comes the only really entertaining part of the movie: Peter Dinklage. He plays Peter, a man who had a special relationship with Daniel’s father. A very special relationship. Nudge nudge…oy.

As tiresome as a secret gay boyfriend at a funeral is (I can’t remember another instance per se but it just feels really familiar), Dinklage makes the role entertaining. He has a comic flare that allows him to really sell the part even when his dialogue is rather weak.

Death at a Funeral features so much forced joviality you start to feel like you are at an actual family occasion, one where, unlike funerals, all the participants are required to at least pretend they are having a good time. You smile, you drink, your face feels tight, your smile starts to hurt, you drink, you make astoundingly boring small talk and, after a while, your laughter’s so fake it starts to give you a headache. Death at a Funeral wants to be some wacky British comedy that is favorably compared to Four Weddings and a Funeral and tries hard to sell itself as such but the story never unfolds organically. It’s just one “crazy” set up after another — acid in the pill bottle, little person in the coffin, naked people on the roof. (I wonder, does Six Feet Under get any royalties for Death at a Funeral’s use of its pill bottle switcheroo plot point?) Joke, joke, poignant scene, joke. This is not comedy, it’s a forced march through shtick. D+

Rated R for language and drug content. Directed by Frank Oz and written by Dean Craig, Death at a Funeral is an hour and 30 minutes and is distributed in limited release by MGM.