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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Death At A Funeral

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Death At A Funeral

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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When the wrong body is inadvertently delivered to an English country manor for burial, it is mildly humorous and awkward to see how the ultra-polite British explain and remedy the situation. Unfortunately, Death at a Funeral then takes a roller coaster’s plunge into the inane and unbelievable as soon as this problem’s corrected.

Under the guise of a family convening to mourn the passing of its patriarch, the plot is constructed to get all kinds of neurotic, pseudo-polite, ill-humored, angry and incontinent lunatics under one roof for a funeral. Add a dwarf, an elderly disabled curmudgeon, a homely one night stand and two other schlub cousins – one, a put upon nerd in charge of an unruly disabled uncle, the other a virtual drug dealer, and you have the recipe for idiot stew. This poorly done cheap shot of a film tries to be clever but comes across as juvenile locker room lore.

The man being buried has many secrets and two vastly different sons. The occasion demands decorum and gravity. With this lot and its circumstantial doings, there’s virtually a guarantee that there will be neither.

Well-meaning son Daniel, (Matthew Macfadyen) and devoted wife Jane (Keeley Hawes) host the funeral along with Daniel’s novelist brother, Robert (Rupert Graves), just in from New York and wrapped in success. Their mother and widow Sandra (Jane Asher) tries to put an elegant face on the sad occasion, as the rest of the extended family arrive at the home in all manner of circumstance. Cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) and fiancé Simon (Alan Tudyk) bring Martha’s brother Troy (Kris Marshall) with them and unwittingly, a bottle marked valium that’s really a hallucinogenic cocktail that Simon’s already ingested

Meanwhile, another cousin Howard (Andy Nyman) and his friend Justin (Ewen Bremner) are charged with picking up, transporting and seeing to the needs of crabby Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan). Uncle Alfie seems to hate everyone, especially Howard. Justin once had a one night stand with Martha, who is now engaged to Simon. And then there’s “little person” Peter, (Peter Dinklage) a mysterious attendee who has urgent business to discuss with Daniel.

Uncle Alfie is in a wheelchair and needs to urgently use the bathroom. Howard is a verbal and situational abuse magnet. Simon is convinced the corpse is really alive and that clothing is optional. Daniel is intrigued by the diminutive Peter, who seems to have intimate knowledge of the deceased. Jane and Martha are kept in the dark about different situations, but stand by their men as the insanity unfolds. Robert is the snob; above it all until an unexpected circumstance sucks him reluctantly back into his family’s bosom. Sandra remains oblivious throughout the unfolding insanity. Troy has brought the valium bottle with him to the funeral.

Even with these loaded situations, the film is still a strained, predictable attempt at farce and shock for shock’s sake. You want to like these Brits, all blue eyes and bad teeth. Too bad the contrivances are far and wide, causing more groans than gasps of surprise.

Director Frank Oz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) should have stayed on Sesame Street with this simplistic drivel. It could have taught children to stay away from clichéd, scatological, absurdly improbable skits. He’s insinuated too much American swill into the staid Brits so that his effort does not elicit wit and sharpness as much as featuring an inappropriate slapstick goon squad. Although born in England, Oz is distinctly American in his farcical leanings and cannot seem to create a seamless mesh, just a brainless mess.

American madcap humor is not transplanted well on our friends across the pond. Here the two styles crash and clash, like an elegant evening gown incomprehensibly paired with scuba flippers. The fun with these people is that they are not like us and more used to keeping up appearances. Oz crash-bangs his characters together, making ridiculous judgment calls, complete with toilet humor in physical form.

Screenwriter Dean Craig’s first effort illustrates his thought process; string together illogical happenings to speed the lunacy along. The script panders to the lowest I.Q. in the room and even baser human instincts and labors to insult audience intelligence with wildly improbable character behavior, expecting an unquestioned swallowing of each contrivance as if it’s sustenance instead of sewage.

Matthew Macfadyen tries to be the embodiment of reason but gets lost in the scripted frenzy. Alan Tudyk’s outrageous drug-induced antics might bring a slight chuckle if you can get over how he got that way. Andy Nyman and Kris Marshall try their best to round out the ensemble in their respective roles of nerd and drug user, but get relegated into kooky, flailing flatliners like everyone around them.

Peter Dinklage (here wasted in a role utilized as little more than a carnival freak.) makes a curious entrance, grabbing the attention of all who behold him, and progressively shreds his dignity in every way.

Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s one-time girlfriend, is the only actor to maintain some semblance of dignity throughout this failed farce.

The death at this funeral is all of the original comedy that could have taken place – but didn’t.