I tried to avoid Death at a Funeral. But there I was. I’d missed the only screening of Kick-Ass that I could’ve squeezed into my weekend and was left with no other choice. Now it seems like some strange form of destiny.
A few weeks ago, I began my review of Hot Tub Time Machine this way: “If I have to sit through the horrible trailer for Death at a Funeral one more time, I may visit the projection booth and give the guys a talking-to. Hopefully, nobody is anxiously awaiting my review of that horror.”
The trailer made it look so hopelessly stupid that I almost bailed out and watched nothing over the weekend, but my sense of commitment – or maybe some higher power – pushed me toward the ticket window and sent me warily to my seat.
And, right from the opening credits, something unexpected happened. There was a sense of style and fun happening before my eyes. I started to smile and enjoy myself. And that sense of fun – and that smile – stayed with me until the end. I thought, “Wow. I wonder if the guys who made that trailer even saw the movie.” Instead of mindless and vulgar, the movie is smart and funny.
It’s a sprawling story about a large, extended family gathering for a funeral. Out of a cast that includes Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, Zoe Saldana (Avatar), and Peter Dinklage as a small man with a big surprise of a story to tell, Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence take center stage as two dueling brothers, Aaron and Ryan.
Ryan is a published writer of trashy paperbacks while Aaron spent two years writing a novel he’s never let anyone read. Because of this, in the eyes of their family Ryan is the prized son and Aaron is the schmuck eldest son who should step aside and let the writer of the family deliver the eulogy. This provides much of the conflict – and a heart that I didn’t expect to find.
It’s a story of a man, Aaron, who needs to learn to take chances and be spontaneous or it’ll all be over for him before he knows it and with nothing much to say in his eulogy either. There is something very poignant actually when he decides to finally let people read his manuscript. It’s like a new beginning for him.
Much of the humor in the movie and its few laugh-out-loud moments come from a bottle of Valium that contains, well, something a bit more psychedelic than its label advertises. This leads to some trippy scenes that are underplayed to near perfection and a final rooftop shot that reaches perfection. The biggest laugh though comes from the best – and most literal – bit of toilet humor I’ve ever seen.
The movie is well controlled with class always managing to trump bad taste and with every cast member finding just the right comedic tempo for the role, but it comes up short of being a classic. To measure up to the great madcap, screwball comedies of the past – and that it clearly wants to resemble – it needs more than just a few good laughs. It needs rolling in the aisles.
Maybe the best thing that will come out of this Funeral will be that it’ll finally get people to see the original Death at a Funeral (2007). It is a comedic classic – according to the two or three people who saw it.