100 Film Favorites – #72: Death at a Funeral
(Frank Oz, 2007)
Frank Oz: One of the first Muppeteers. The man who brought to life Grover, Cookie Monster, Bert and Yoda. And also the director of some pretty good movies.
Death at a Funeral (the British original) is a farcical black comedy set at the funeral of a large family’s patriarch. The various family members gather for the ceremony, and as they interact and attempt to sort out their assorted problems and baggage, the family members all find themselves caught up in increasingly absurd predicaments.
This movie makes a strong case for Alan Tudyk being the funniest man on the planet. In Death at a Funeral, Tudyk plays Simon, a nervous man intent on making a good impression on his prospective father-in-law. To calm his nerves, Simon’s fiance gives him a “valium” taken from a pill bottle in her brother’s room. However, the brother, a “pharmacology student” has filled the bottle with a hallucinogenic designer drug of his own concoction, described as a mixture of LSD and mescaline. On his inconvenient trip, Simon’s symptoms include a heightened appreciation of the color green, a strong sense that “there was a dog here just now,” and scaling the family mansion nude (or, if you’re British, “totally starkers”). The deceptive pill-bottle makes its way into several hands over the course of the afternoon, but none play its effects as hilariously as Tudyk.
Another memorable character is a hypochondriac friend of the family, who finds himself responsible for the crotchety, wheelchair-ridden, and incontinent old Uncle Archie.
I know I’ve essentially recounted the entire narratives of several films on this list already, but I can’t bring myself to do it here. The comedy of the movie comes from seeing how the various characters’ problems and story threads tie together as each combination of people interacts. These various conflicts compound and build, until the deceased father’s secret past (and his corpse) lie exposed on the floor.
Death at a Funeral received an American remake in 2010, starring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Tracy Morgan. The plot is essentially identical, with many of the same gags being repeated. The cast of the remake is primarily composed of African-American actors, thus making it both a black comedy and a “black” comedy. Peter Dinklage also reprises his role from the original version as a dwarf with a secret regarding the father’s past. I have yet to actually see the remake, so I can’t accurately compare it with the original. Generally, however, my stance is that, since we already speak English, there’s no requirement for British films to be “Americanized” for us to understand or appreciate them. I won’t speak ill of a film I haven’t seen, but I think more of an effort could be made to give foreign films wider release in the States, rather than American studios simply buying up good foreign film concepts and churning out remade versions.
Overall, Death at a Funeral is a hysterical farce which runs the gamut from verbal witticisms to sight gags to a smattering of potty humor (pardon me, humour), never getting dull or stagnant. It’s easily one of the funniest comedies of the last decade.
Brian Terrill is the host of television show Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain. You can keep up with Brian’s 100 Film Favorites countdown here.