Death at a Funeral

Frank Oz

Read the Blu-ray Review

Growing up in Minnesota, I came to love theater at a young age whether it was being cast as part of the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz since I towered over all the boys or trying to secure as many musical solos as possible in my junior high production of Little Miss Christie, before I became solely obsessed with writing, I loved the smell of greasepaint in the evening. Of course, school theatricals aside, we lived in one of the most exciting cities for the arts being located near several theatres such as the legendary Guthrie Theatre but I remember having a particular fondness for the British farces and comedies that were frequently staged at our Old Log Theater. There in that picturesque rustic setting could audiences see the best of British sex comedies of mistaken identity and misunderstandings and while to some it’s an acquired taste, I’m consistently taken in by the outrageous setups and casts of dozens of actors who, like members of a great jazz band, all get their chance to experiment, riff and shine under their spotlight like Golden Gods as Billy Crudup in Almost Famous would say.

In film, it’s a rare and sometimes unsuccessful proposition that doesn’t always equal big bang for the box office buck but when it’s done right in films such as A Fish Called Wanda or Noises Off, there’s nothing greater and such is the case with American director Frank Oz’s Death at a Funeral. Working from a script by Dean Craig and filmed in a breakneck seven weeks according to IMDb, Bowfinger, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and In and Out director Oz introduces us to Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen), a kind, upstanding and good man married to Jane (Keeley Hawes) who still lives at home with his mother (Jane Asher). After his father dies, the responsibility to plan the funeral falls to Daniel and everything appears to be in order until the arrival of the casket and the guests lead to incredibly bizarre, uncomfortable and hilarious complications that I won’t begin to explain for fear of spoiling here in a plot summary. Suffice it to say, secrets are revealed in the form of a mysterious American dwarf (The Station Agent’s Peter Dinklage) who shows up out of the blue but he’s only one tenth of the story as the relatives and friends arrive with baggage and agendas all their own as one man tries to win back Daniel’s engaged cousin with whom he shared a one night stand, hallucinogenic pills circulate in the form of what is perceived to be Valium, and Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan) just really can’t stand anybody.

With so much plot and characters all crammed into a brisk running time of less than two hours, I was constantly amazed that nothing got lost in the shuffle and instead of feeling slighted, with the situations and characters growing wilder by the minute, we’re never asked to buy into even more outrageous humor than what seems—although highly unbelievable—fitting to the story that the ensemble, Craig, and Oz are trying to tell. Scene-stealers abound and come mostly in the form of the film’s most valuable player Andy Nyman as Daniel’s loyal if slightly dim best friend Howard and there’s a highly entertaining outtake reel on the DVD to show just how hard the actors all had to work to keep from laughing. The kind of film you’ll definitely want to share with friends and watch more than once-- the sleeper with the solemn title, Death at a Funeral is one of 2007’s funniest films.