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Blu-ray Review: Death at a Funeral (2007)

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I will freely admit that I’m a sucker for any of those British comedy movies with tons of characters where the storylines kind of sort of temporarily and only momentarily intersect.  Perhaps, in fact, I’m just a sucker for British comedies.  Sit me in front of Love, Actually; Four Weddings and a Funeral; heck, even Bridget Jones’ Diary and I have an absolutely fantastic time.  There is a laid back way in which the films are crafted and build towards their conclusion that I find truly enjoyable.  They are filled with heart, humor, and even the occasionally raunchy joke.  They are a joy to watch and told in a way which I don’t think Americans have quit mastered.  Death at a Funeral, Frank Oz’s 2007 film, not the Americanized 2010 version, is another perfect example of the genre. 

Right off the bat I will say that there are some who might argue that Death at a Funeral is burdened by a name which makes it all too obvious what has to occur at some point during the movie.  There is, unquestionably, an argument to be made there – one does in fact keep waiting for an individual to drop dead.  If you happen to be watching the movie with others, you might in fact be tempted to place bets on who will end up dying.  That being said, I think that there are many out there for whom the title will soften the blue of what is to come and help head off at the pass and discussion of how a death may in fact make a comedy slightly too serious.  That is not an obligation filmmakers have, nor would I argue that they should follow such a path.  The title works because it is an odd one, one which makes you stop and think and wonder even if it does give away some of the plot.

The film stars Matthew MacFadyen, Keeley Hawes, Andy Nyman, Ewen Bremmer, Alan Tudyk, Rupert Graves, Kris Marshall, and Peter Dinklage amongst many others (yes, Dinklage also appeared in the 2010 film).  It  follows quite a simple basic storyline of a family and friends coming together for the funeral of Daniel (MacFadyen) and Robert’s (Graves) father, but quickly grows far more complicated. 

Daniel and Robert lead very divergent lives.  Daniel is settled and living with his wife Jane (Hawes) at his parents’ house with his mother, Sandra (Jane Asher).  Robert on the other hand is a famous writer who lives in New York and spends his time hobnobbing with the rich and famous.  The film, taking place where Daniel lives, is really much more Daniel’s than Robert’s. 

Well, it’s Daniel’s and its Simon’s (Tudyk).  Poor Simon is the fiancé of Daniel’s cousin and is so nervous about seeing his father-in-law-to-be (we have all been there), that he ends up doped up on some pretty strong (and illegal) medication.  There is also the story of Peter (Dinklage) interwoven into the entire affair, but I fear that if I delve too deeply into his purpose I will ruin all that follows for those who haven’t seen the movie. 

Frank Oz does his best to handle the various plots and introduce us to all the characters necessary to propel the story forward, but unlike a Love, Actually where watching the introduction and setup is hugely enjoyable, here it feels like something of a chore to watch the first act.  One simply tunes in and then keeps waiting for the funny to happen, only to be disappointed when it is pushed down the line. 
Death at a Funeral does in fact do a very good job of making the audience laugh, but it takes an awfully long time for Oz, using Dean Craig’s script, to get to the humor.  There is a very amusing animation over the opening credits, but that is really all the merriment to be had by the audience for a significant portion of the movie. 

MacFadyen, probably better known for his dramatic work in MI-5, Pride & Prejudice, and Little Dorrit, acquits himself well enough here, but he is, for the most part, the straight man.  Tudyk is over the top and hugely amusing, but his part is one that we have all seen done before repeatedly.  It is in fact Peter Dinklage who is the most enjoyable element of the film, and unfortunately used far too little in it.  That seems relatively symptomatic of the movie as a whole – when it’s on, it’s firing on all cylinders and truly funny, it’s just not on quite enough, particularly considering its 90 minute runtime. 

As a light comedy, one shouldn’t be buying this Blu-ray expecting to be blown out of the water in terms of its audio or video presentation, and if one goes in with moderate expectations they certainly will not be disappointed.   At one point in the movie Simon comments on how green everything is and while there is certainly a lot of greenery, the audience will in no way be awed themselves by the caliber of the green.  It is not a splendid, radiant, beautiful green, like much of the colors in the film it just kind of exists.  The detail level is fine, but the lack of richness in the colors is a disappointment.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack may provide some background ambient noises to help situate the viewer, but the dialogue is not always as crisp and clear as one would hope for in a comedy which relies on people talking, and that is certainly distressing.

The Blu-ray release comes with a minimal number of special features.  There are two different commentary tracks, one with Oz and one with Craig, Tudyk, and Nyman.  Both commentary tracks provide insight into the film and what it took to make it happen, but neither really can be classified as a must listen.  There is also a not terribly amusing gag reel which might be better if it were ignored in its entirety.  MGM has opted to not put a menu on the disc which proves itself, yet again, to be hugely annoying and adds a bargain bin feel to the release.

If I sound only semi-enthused by Death at a Funeral it is because I think that it could have been a lot more than it is.  The movie is funny enough, but it is not truly hysterical and I think that it verges on that level of funny without ever getting there.  It is a funny enough movie but it could have been so much more.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
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