You know those horribly embarrassing family reunions where Murphy’s law works like a charm while everything else that can go wrong, will go wrong? Like having your first Thanksgiving dinner with your in-laws and forgetting to cook the turkey, Director Frank Oz’s film “Death at a Funeral” operates in that same dysfunctional atmosphere where — like a house precariously built with cards — the whole thing could collapse at any given moment. Although the ordeal is not so fun for the host, it’s fun to watch, remember and reminisce about.
“Death at a Funeral” is hosted by a Brit named Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen), one of the two sons of the late Edward (Gareth Milne). Daniel and his girlfriend Jane (Keeley Hawes) want to move into a flat together, but Daniel hasn’t put in the deposit for the apartment. When Daniel’s brother Robert (Rupert Graves), an accomplished novelist who lives in New York City, forgets to bring his half to pay for their father’s funeral, Daniel is saddled with not only his obligation to his girlfriend and family, but also with sponsoring the whole proper funeral.
However, bringing such a volatile cast who both love and cannot stand each other in such close proximity is like dropping a lit match next to a barrel of gasoline. Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan) is an old and irritable Ebenezer Scrooge in a wheelchair. Cousin Martha’s boyfriend Simon (Alan Tudyk) has an accidental encounter with Special-K (and not the cereal), and Martha (Daisy Donovan) is trying to keep him occupied and placated while he’s having hallucinations at the funeral. Cousin Troy (Kris Marshall) has a bottle of Ecstasy pills disguised in a Valium bottle that he keeps losing. And this stranger named Peter (Peter Dinklage) has a secret about Daniel’s father, which Daniel would very much like to keep under wraps.
With as much dramatic irony contained in Dean Craig’s screenplay as any Shakespearean play, you would expect flames and explosions as the characters tiptoe across a minefield, but the wit and comedic punches in the film are often quieter, like peeling the layers off an onion. It may sting and you may be crying tears of laughter, but the appeal and absolute genius of “Death at a Funeral” is well done. A funeral is so private and personal that viewers will feel like voyeurs as they gleefully watch the self-absorbed and human characters fall apart. Meanwhile, there’s a real cathartic element to the film where the blunders and tears are only funny until someone actually dies. And with a movie’s called “Death at a Funeral,” you can’t help but wonder who’s going to die.
“Death at a Funeral” was directed by Frank Oz and written by Dean Craig.