This is a very entertaining blast of dry British humor. It makes the funny out of a time when nothing is supposed to be funny. When everyone is supposed to be, or expected to be, at their somber best, that is when the comedy is supposed to kick in. There are uncomfortable laughs aplenty. When you should be teary-eyed, deadly serious, and interminably morose, that is when the jokes should come out. Humor is found in the unintentionally comedic. Laughing where you are not supposed to be, that is the joy of Death at a Funeral.
It does not take long for the comedy to start. The palatial estate of the deceased patriarch, which also serves as home to his widow, son Daniel, and his wife Jane is the setting for the funeral. The folks from the funeral parlor arrive, bring the casket into the living room, open the lid, only to discover that they brought the wrong one. Sure, we all saw that one coming, but that does not diminish the laughs that it brought me.
That opening scene works as the perfect tone-setter for the film. It plays off of the stiff upper lip stereotype of the British, the dry sense of humor, and the insane slapstick. I may be way off, as my experience with British humor is limited at best. I look to Monty Python as an example of the British style of comedy; it is wacky slapstick, but the attitudes always play the upper crust type that see comedy as being beneath them. Death at a Funeral builds itself up on a bed of dry humor, jokes that will make you snicker, snort, and chuckle before all hell breaks loose.
The death of the family patriarch brings the entire dysfunctional family together. Even before everyone arrives for the service, the comedic slow burn begins. Many laughs are low key. Daniel is at the center of everything as he tries to keep to proceedings going smoothly, which proves to be an impossible task.
None of the characters are terribly well developed beyond the requirements of the script, but no matter. The momentum built by the embarrassing sequence of laughs is more than enough to carry the film along. What is refreshing is the fact that it does not appear to aspire to any level of greatness. It does not attempt to be anything more than a comical farce with a goofy conglomeration of characters ranging from the endearing, to the zany, to the despicable, and all other steps in between. The only requirement is to laugh at an event where humor is taboo.
This is the kind of movie where different people will latch on and relate to different people. Perhaps the stressed Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) is similar to you, or maybe Martha's (Daisy Donovan) attempts to step out out on her own are more your style. Maybe you would rather laugh at Justin's (Ewen Bremner) attempts to hit on Martha. Whoever you go for, there is somebody there to laugh at.
For my money, I loved the performances of Alan Tudyk and Peter Dinklage. Tudyk plays Simon, a middle class bloke who is stressed out by the belief that Martha's father will not approve him. To help set him at ease, Martha gives him a Valium, which isn't exactly Valium. This leads to a bit of zaniness. Then there is Dinklage, playing Peter, a man whose mere presence is enough to ensure that something is afoot. He brings a bombshell that threatens to blow the roof off the proceedings, and is also a key element in the slapstick bomb that explodes at the film's climax.
Frank Oz, who is likely more famous for being a puppeteer and voicing a few beloved characters (including Yoda), is also a skilled director, and he brings his unique sensibilities to bear here. He does a good job at giving the film a different feel than your standard Hollywood comedy. It may not be the best of its type, but it is definitely a delightful change of pace.
Bottom line. The movie is fun. Just be sure to give it some time to build up. The first 30-40 minutes are not terribly hilarious, though laughs are to be had. It really builds up to the madcap finish. You will not be disappointed by the movie, that is the long and the short of it.
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