Death at a Funeral is now open for discussion

Our September 2007 film selection, Death at a Funeral, is now open for discussion. Members who would like to Post an Official Commentary about this film are welcome to do so (Contact Ron or Roger if you would like to have posting priveleges to this blogsite). Anyone, member or not, can place brief comments here by simply clicking on the comments button.


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  1. DEATH AT A FUNERAL (2007)


    Director Frank Oz [aka Oznowicz] was actually born in England, and he was raised in America. A very talented actor, with 104 film appearances on his resume –he also specialized in “voice work”. He and Jim Henson created the whole MUPPETS phenomenon. He created multiple characters, the most famous of which were Kermit and Miss Piggy. He is equally well known for being the voice of Yoda for the George Lucas STAR WARS series.

    As a director he has made 14 films, varying from THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982), starring David Bowie, and collaborating with Jim Henson. He remade the dark classic LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986), with Steve Martin and Rick Moranis. He remade BEDTIME STORY (1964) with David Niven and Marlon Brando, as DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988), with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. He gave us the classic fun of WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991) with Bill Murray. He shocked us a bit with Kevin Kline and IN AND OUT (1997), getting Tom Selleck to play a gay character. He scored well at the box office with BOWFINGER (1999), with Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. An interesting departure from his comedies was the crime thriller, THE SCORE (2001), with Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Marlon Brando. DEATH AT A FUNERAL (2007) represents his triumphant return to comedy; and what a dark and delicious foray it is. He directed this tight little film with all the dry wit, black humor, and colorful chaos that many other creative Brit directors, like Terry Gilliam or Terry Jones, might have infused their films with. The movie listed a dozen producers in the credits. Oz may have had to perform a “hard sell” in order to get it made. Thank God he succeeded.

    A farce of the first order, this film is about a normally dysfunctional family who are forced to confront each other at a patriarch’s funeral. The amazing script was written by Dean Craig. He is a young writer/director with only four films to his credit. In 2003 he gave us DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS. His script for FUNERAL was filled with wafts, even wads of wit, had terrific internal timing, a solid structure and plot, with a delectable and irreverent sense of humor. It is a film so completely farcical that I believe it could be produced on stage, in live theatre. All those slamming doors, crossed-over plotlines, and zany characters would lend themselves to some outrageous theatrical moments. Perhaps it could even be done live as Commedia, in masks.

    Finding actual humor using a funeral as the setting is distasteful for some people –but it has been a mainstay of many comedies for eons. Some earlier examples would be THE LOVED ONE (1965), directed by Tony Richardson, with Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters, and Milton Berle. The film ads included the statement, “the motion picture with something to offend everyone.” [Of course the gross-out box office champion has to be Sacha Baron Cohen’s BORAT (2006)]. There was THE WRONG BOX (1966), directed by Bryan Forbes, with Michael Caine and Dudley Moore. I want to include PASSED AWAY (1992), as well, with Bob Hoskins and Jack Warden; the promo for the film read, “A bunch of eccentric relatives gather for their patriarch’s funeral.” Gosh, does that sound familiar? And we must not leave out FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994), with Hugh Grant, and Andie MacDowall.

    For me the term “gallows humor” comes to mind, and yes I guess it is very similar to black comedy, with one specific exception. Gallows humor is mostly promulgated by the person affected –humor that arises from circumstances where death is perceived as impending, or unavoidable.

    Benjamin Franklin, immediately after signing the Declaration of Independence, just prior to the fighting of the Revolutionary War, said to the delegates, “We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

    Attending the film I was happy to give in to the instant giddiness that most of the audience immediately lapsed into –beginning to titter and then guffaw while the opening credits were still rolling. If laughter is the “best medicine”, and we all know that it is, then this film should be mandatory viewing, and the tickets should look like a medical prescription pad. Viewing this film is definitely good for “what ails you.” My stomach hurt midway through. I think I laughed out loud three whole times in BORAT. Watching this film I laughed out loud three times before the first scene was over.

    The plotline for this movie seemed to kick me in the funny bone right out of the gate. Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen), the youngest son, and his wife, Jane (Keeley Hawes), are awaiting the delivery of the patriarch’s casket, to be set up in the living room for the service. The mortuary hearse showed up, and several men in dark suits struggled to carry the coffin into the home. But when Daniel gave the cursory look at the cadaver, lifting the coffin lid to view the body, he discovered it was not his father. The mortuary mob exited with the coffin grumbling, knowing they had a long drive to retrieve the “right box”.

    We are next introduced to cousin, Martha (Daisy Donovan), and her twitchy fiancé, Simon (Alan Tudyk). Simon is driving, and is so nervous; he narrowly avoids a car accident. They stop to pick up Martha’s brother, who happens to be a pharmacy student who whips up hallucinogenic concoctions to sell. He put his latest creation in any empty Valium bottle. While getting his coat, Martha gave Simon what she thought was a tab of valium –which turned out to be some kind of designer drug like Ecstasy. The drug would not come on full strength for an hour, so Simon was at the funeral when the roof caved in on his psyche.

    Daniel, meanwhile, had an older brother, Robert (Rupert Graves), who was a successful writer and who lived in NYC. When he arrived, he emerged from the taxi wearing long hair and dark glasses, strutting like a rock star. Everyone, including Daniel, assumed Robert would have written the eulogy, and that he would present it. But no such luck and he quickly rejected the offer, and just left that chore to Daniel. He also quickly announced that he would not share in the expenses for the funeral. Other cousins were dispatched to pick up old uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughn) who was in a wheel chair –this ancient crone was also cranky, irascible, and controlling.

    Soon as more guests arrived, we met Sandra (Jane Asher), the mother and wife of the deceased, on the arm of her physician brother. As the room was almost filled to capacity, the brothers noticed an old little person, Peter (Peter Dinklage) who sat quietly and stared back at them with big sad eyes. He pulled Daniel aside and announced that he had had a “special relationship” with their father. He displayed snapshots showing the father at a “Spartacus “toga party dressed in a Roman Centurion costume. Some of the other photos showed the father in compromising positions doing unspeakable things with Peter, who was dressed as a hand maiden. Peter made a demand for money as he endeavored to blackmail the family in order to get rid themselves of him, the photos, the negatives, and the “great shame”.

    The minister began the service just as Simon’s hallucinogenic came to full strength. He was convinced that he saw the coffin “moving”. Leaping up screaming he tilted the coffin over and spilled out the father’s body onto the lap of the wife/mother. Of course, the bottle of valium was “misplaced”, so when the brothers decided to tie Peter up rather than pay him, he was force-fed five “valiums”. Left alone all trussed up, Peter began to hop up and down like a jack terrier, bouncing finally off the couch and banging his head on the side of the coffee table. Checking him later, it was decided that he was dead. What does one do with a tied up gay dead dwarf at your father’s funeral? They decided to hide the body. The only place possible was in the coffin itself, uniting the homosexual lovers in death. In the true style of farce, Peter was not dead, only stunned, and in a drugged stupor; nearly comatose. As the coffin began to shake and shimmy and Peter fought his way out of it, wild-eyed and crazy, barely controlled chaos and hilarity ensued.

    “I knew it!” screamed Simon, who became so rowdy; he had to be taken to the upstairs bathroom. Soon he felt overheated, and before anyone could intervene, he was running all over the roof naked. In the midst of all this, uncle Alfie had to defecate, and wanted folks to know that he required, “assistance”. Cousin Martha had to announce her pregnancy to get Simon’s attention and get him back into his clothes and off the roof.

    Matthew Macfadyen played the youngest son, Daniel, and he was delegated to the stalwart task of being the straight man, the foil for all the mirth. His excellent comic timing and crisp deliveries guaranteed that every joke would pay off. He has had 20 film appearances since 1998. He is most well known for being a regular on the excellent BBC crime thriller MI-5, and in that role he has done some very fine work. He was an intriguing Mr. Darcy, romancing the nubile Keira Knightley in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005). He also had some fun with a cameo in the Tarantino/Rodriguez instant cult candidate, GRINDHOUSE (2007).

    Alan Tudyk just about stole the film with his inspired and zany interpretation of Simon, the nervous fiancé –passing through all the phases of an acid trip for us. He came up with facial expressions, and created guttural noises that have never been seen or heard before. His presence, his character, will be the one salient memory we will all have about this film 20 years from now. I thought that he was British, but he actually was born in Texas, lives in NYC, and does a lot of Broadway Theater. He has appeared in 24 films since 1997. He had a small part in PATCH ADAMS (1998), with Robin Williams, and was in 28 DAYS in 2000. He played red-haired firebrand Wat Falhurst in A KNIGHT’S TALE (2001), competing in scene stealing with Paul Bettany. He is best known as the pilot, Wash, on the short-lived TV series, FIREFLY, and the film version of it, SERENITY (2006). He was in I, ROBOT (2004), with Will Smith. He strapped on some six-shooters to be in Spielberg’s TV mini-series INTO THE WEST (2005), and he stayed out West to play Doc Potter in the remake of 3:10 TO YUMA (2007).

    Rupert Graves played the successful older brother and writer, Robert. This egocentric poser had some difficulty sharing the limelight even with his dead father at the funeral. As an actor in this production, he had the thankless job of being a straight man’s straight man to Daniel –but he created such a vivid characterization that his transitions to zaniness were very tangible, logical, and believable. A respected British leading man for decades, he has appeared in 51 films since 1978. He was in ROOM WITH A VIEW (1987), and MAURICE (1987), THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE (1994), with Nigel Hawthorne, MRS. DALLOWAY (1997), with Vanessa Redgrave, and he had a prominent role in V FOR VENDETTA (2005), with Natalie Portman.

    The very talented Peter Dinklage played Peter, the gay lover lost, the desperate blackmailer, the spoiler and the spark that set off the comedic fireworks, taking the production to the third level immediately. He played Peter the Coy boy with a real pout, nervous but determined to receive his share of the patriarch’s inheritance –for after all he “had earned it.” His characterization ran the full gamete from nuanced sadness to full-blown wild-haired insanity, rating 10 out of 10 on the rib tickler scale. A busy actor, he has appeared in 36 films since 1995. He was Binky in 13 MOONS (2002), sidekick to Steve Buscemi. I loved him in THE STATION AGENT (2003), with Patricia Clarkson. He was in ELF (2003), LASSIE (2005), was interesting as professor Arthur Ramsen on the TV series THRESHOLD (2005-06), and has completed seven episodes of NIP/TUCK (2006).

    The still lovely Jane Asher played Sandra, the wife/mother. She found just the right notes to strum softly, playing the former trophy wife who was more concerned with her looks, and her portion of the estate, that she was with any visible signs of grief relative to her husband’s passing. Like with Hayley Mills, we have watched Jane Asher grow up in the movies. She has appeared in 62 films since 1952 –being only 6 years old for her first role. As a tween she appeared with the dashing Richard Greene in BBC’s THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD that ran on American TV as well. She was in ALFIE (1966), with Michael Caine, and in DEEP END (1971). She was memorable in the seldom seen BBC drama A VOYAGE ROUND MY FATHER (1982), with Alan Bates and Laurence Olivier. I remember her too in DREAMCHILD (1985), with Ian Holm.

    The venerable Peter Vaughn played crotchety Uncle Alfie; whose mere moniker suggests a character from the rock opera TOMMY. Vaughn has the distinction of doing a toilet scene in DEATH AT A FUNERAL that reaches new scatological heights, soaring brown and pungent even over that odious scene in BORAT. Uncle Alfie as a role represents a bit of an apex for him during his 60 year career. He has busily appeared in 169 films since 1959. He was in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960), being zapped by adolescent nerd zombies. He was in THE BOFORS GUN (1968), with Nicol Williamson, ALFRED THE GREAT (1969), with David Hemmings, Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS (1971), with Dustin Hoffman, THE MACKINTOSH MAN (1973), with Paul Newman, 11 HARROWHOUSE (1974), with John Gielgud, ZULU DAWN (1979), with Burt Lancaster, played Winston the Ogre in Terry Gilliam’s TIME BANDITS (1981), MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON (1991), was very touching in REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993), with Anthony Hopkins, and very effective as the onerous Bill Sellers in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS (2004), with Geoffrey Rush.

    Lost love, mistaken identities, bumbling morticians, caskets that come alive, those terrible and dark secrets regarding the patriarch’s “special needs”, hallucinogenic bursts of inhibition, nudity, toilet hi-jinks, suppressed sex, unrepressed sex, deviant sex, pregnancy, predispositions and misunderstandings, jealousy, an ice queen for a wife and mother, a Spartacus toga party, a centurion’s costume, an unpublished novel, harping, cajoling, bondage, wrestling, roof-romping, with enough turnabouts, fop haws, reversals, and surprises to flesh out three other comedic films, plus a really excellent cast –makes this darkest of drawing room comedies land on its dancing feet somewhere lodged half way between Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, or say George Bernard Shaw and Harold Pinter, who is emulating Carl Reiner, who collaborated with Mel Brooks, after consulting with Woody Allen. This solid little film my not be tinged with “greatness”, but it is absolutely the funniest evening I have spend in the theater this year.


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