Take all this and add naked house climbing, scatological jokes (visual and verbal) and some dead bodies and you have the perfect mix of humor and timing that is funny until the last scene.
Probably best known as the voice of Yoda in the Star Wars enterprise, Frank Oz also has a very unique repertoire of films that he has directed, and Death at a Funeral fits perfectly on the list. From the same man who brought us over-the-top comedies in the 80s and 90s like What About Bob? and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels comes a hilarious day at the funeral of the patriarch of an English family where things go from worse to much worse.
The film sets up the absurdity from the opening scene as Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) makes the final preparations for his father's funeral and realizes that the men delivering the casket have brought the wrong body. With that, we know we are in for an unusual day. The chaos continues when, on the way to the funeral, Martha (Daisy Donovan) accidently gives her fiancé, Simon (Alan Tudyk), a hallucinogenic drug she got from her brother, Troy (Kris Marshall), who is "studying to be a pharmacist" at the university. Pharmacist, right.
On top of that, Daniel has to worry about living in the shadow of Robert (Rupert Graves), his successful writer-brother who comes back from New York for the funeral. Daniel also meets an interesting stranger at the party, Peter (Peter Dinklage), who knows a lot more about Daniel's father's past than anyone in the family.
Take all this and add naked house climbing, scatological jokes (visual and verbal) and some dead bodies and you have the perfect mix of humor and timing that is funny until the last scene. Oz keeps the pace of the movie moving quickly as he spends only a few minutes with any group of characters. After we get a little bit of the problem they are working on, we move on to someone else, adding to the frenetic and confusing nature of the day. Dean Craig, who wrote the screenplay, has created a group of characters so dysfunctional and neurotic that they could only all be in the same family.
As for the performances, everyone is on their game. Marshall, best known to American audiences from Love, Actually, is perfect as a drug-dealing student who is trying to take care of several dire situations at once. Tudyk is very careful not to overdo it on the drug performance as we watch him trip for only the first two of the eight hours his drug will last. And Dinklage, who had a wonderfully somber performance in The Station Agent, is both despicable and hilarious as the stranger who has come to crash the funeral.
Like most of Oz's films, Death at a Funeral manages to be just touching enough to not be uncomfortable in such a ridiculous movie. MacFadyen keeps everything balanced as Daniel bounces between the slapstick and the sincere. | Matthew F. Newlin