(No longer in theaters)
Sidney Kimmel, Laurence Malkin, Diana Phillips, Share Stallings
Aug 17, 2007
Death at a Funeral is a dark British farce whose conventionality should not be held against it—old-fashioned farces are murder to bring off. Two keys to doing so: Wind the jack-in-the-boxes in full view of the audience and arrange them to pop up, with trigonometric precision, at the most embarrassing moments; and choose a venue in which the embarrassment will be especially acute (the stuffier the setting, the funnier the shitting). Dean Craig’s script has an ideal venue (upper-crust English memorial service) and a heap of good jack-in-the-boxes (mislabeled hallucinogens, scandalous gay photos, expulsive bowels). It goes soft, but even a gelded traditional farce is more potent than most of our slob comedies.
The movie has an unfunny and utterly perfect center: Matthew MacFadyen as a son of the deceased, a man of meager talent but capacious soul. Forever in the shadow of his hotshot irresponsible novelist brother (Rupert Graves), this grave fellow must rise to the occasion when an interloper (Peter Dinklage) arrives with a mysterious relationship to the dead man. I’m not sure how we should feel about the Dark Other being embodied by a dwarf, but Dinklage is in clover: He finds a marvelous balance between avarice and heartbreak. The final nail in the patriarchal coffin is the accidental ingestion of a designer hallucinogen by an earnest lawyer (Alan Tudyk) who wants to make a good impression on his fiancée’s family. Perched naked atop the manor house, radiantly at one with the universe, he is a thing of farcical beauty—“the Thinker” on acid.
Frank Oz directed, and his metronomical pacing helps. Farce is better when the audience knows pretty much what’s going to happen and more or less when it will and yet laughs anyway. The element of surprise is lost, but it’s replaced by something more rare: an admiration for the elegance of the machine.