Death At A Funeral

Death At A Funeral


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

It used to be a commonplace that tragedies end with a funeral and comedies end with a wedding, but in fact British films like to mix it up a bit. Classic Ealing comedies such as Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949) and The Ladykillers (1955) featured death aplenty, while a popular Mike Newell comedy from 1994 certainly found room for a funeral amidst its four weddings.

The truth is, that in a culture as obsessed with formality and 'appearances' as Britain's - or at least as middle-class England's - any semi-public occasion has the potential to expose all the cracks in that stony façade, with results whose hilarity is commensurate with the amount of embarrassment caused. Death only adds to the effect, because it is both a taboo and - even worse for the affluent set - an equaliser. So both the theme and the setting of Death At A Funeral are perfectly suited for some good old-fashioned English class comedy. Problem is, though, that Frank Oz's ensemble farce is busy rather than laugh-inducing, as though overfilling the coffin will somehow equate with more funny bones getting tickled.

Copy picture

An extended family and various hangers-on gather for the funeral of the patriarch. Son Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen), a novelist manqué, is fretting equally over the eulogy he has to deliver, the arrival of his more successful brother Robert (Rupert Graves), and his promises to wife Jane (MacFayden's real-life wife Keeley Hawes) to buy an apartment away from the house of his mother Sandra (Jane Asher). Meanwhile Daniel's cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) has to keep her uptight fiancé Simon (Alan Tudyk) from falling apart in the presence of her disapproving father Victor (Peter Egan), Martha's brother the chemistry student Troy (Kris Marshall) is trying to conceal his sideline in illicit hallucinogens from his family, and Daniel's friends the hypochondriac Howard (Alan Nyman) and the Martha-obsessed Justin (Ewen Bremner) have been put in charge of looking after the verbally and physically incontinent Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan). Into this hotbed of inveterate sensitivities and seething resentments comes an American blackmailer (Peter Dinklage) to bring the family skeleton right out of the closet.

There is no faulting the performances in Death At A Funeral, with Alan Tudyk meriting special attention for his flawless English RP (he's a native Texan). The film's flaws, though, are buried more deeply into its fabric. For farce to work well, the plotting needs to be watertight, whereas here the sheer excess of characters fails entirely to cover up this film's flimsy underpinnings. Is Justin, or Uncle Alfie, or even Howard, really so essential to the story, or are their misadventures just there to help the film achieve feature length? Would the loss of a few other subplots (any one of, say, Daniel's evolving speech, Simon's acid trip, Robert's eroding egotism, Martha's relationship to her father, Sandra's self-indulgent grief) really damage the film's integrity? After a while, almost everything here seems like padding, and so much padding tends to blunt any sharpness in the comedy – as does the misjudged conclusion, where every family tension that the film has disinterred just ends up being coated in saccharine.

Death At A Funeral might be able to overcome its undeniable slightness were it roll-in-the-aisles funny – but instead there is a restrained approach to the laughs, normally laudable but strangely out of place in so insulated a farce. Sure, there is much comic business with the coffin, lots of running to and fro, and even a graphic defecation sequence – but it all seems a bit subdued, where hysteria and chaos should have been the order of the day. Even the father's big secret, once revealed, hardly seems scandalous by today's standards. And so, with footage of the cast members' corpsing played over the closing credits, the film ends up dying at its own funeral.

Reviewed on: 30 Oct 2007
Share this with others on...
Death At A Funeral packshot
Funeral farce.
Amazon link

Director: Frank Oz

Writer: Dean Craig

Starring: Matthew MacFadyen, Keeley Hawes, Andy Nyman, Ewen Bremner, Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Jane Asher, Kris Marshall, Rupert Graves, Peter Vaughan, Thomas Wheatley, Peter Egan, Peter Dinklage

Year: 2007

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Search database:

Related Articles:

Funeral splurge

If you like this, try:

Four Weddings And A Funeral