Death at a Funeral
Dir. Neil LaBute (Screen Gems) -- 2.5 STARS
“This shit’s been crazy. You got people falling out of caskets and hanging off of the roof,” says Norman (Tracy Morgan) in “Death at a Funeral,” and, in short, this quotation can be neatly applied to the entirety of the film.
Produced a mere three years after the release of the 2007 British independent film of the same name, the movie is a case study of the absurd—it settles into a vein of ridiculous circumstances early on, and this proves to be the defining attribute of the film, from the opening scene to the end credits.
The movie opens with the death of Aaron’s (Chris Rock) father, and a eulogy service which, under normal circumstances, would be a rather somber and brief affair. Events, however, are turned on their ear from the very beginning of the film. Initially, the undertaker confuses Aaron’s father for another and gives the family the wrong body.
As the eulogy service continues at a snail’s pace—which is no surprise given that it is constantly interrupted with episodes of absolute mayhem—Oscar (James Marsden) accidentally takes a hallucinogenic drug instead of a Vallium, and a gay midget, Frank (Peter Dinklage), threatens the family of the deceased with pictures of Aaron’s father and himself performing sexual acts.
Danny Glover’s character, Uncle Russell, exclaims at one point in the film, “I’m family, goddammit,” amidst a string of other more choice words. As “Death at a Funeral” continues, it becomes clear that the film functions more as a family reunion of extremely divergent personalities than as anything else, and it is in this arena that the movie shines.
The characters are colorful and their personalities are strong. Moreover, the actors who play them do a remarkable job of bringing out these often obnoxious personas. With a cast comprised of such seasoned comedic actors as Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Luke Wilson, and Danny Glover, it’s clear that the film does not lack for acting talent.
Where the movie does falls short, however, is in its often confusing and poorly-written script. Among the antics, the movie seems to lose its focus on the reason why the family is gathered in the first place—a funeral. Instead, the actors get lost in the numerous subplots which, though funny, often seem excessively tangential. A gay midget, a high boyfriend, a stubborn ex, and a financially irresponsible brother dominate the plot throughout, and while in some ways the circuitous nature of the film is intentional, one can’t help but picture the actors as the proverbial “chickens with their heads cut off” as they run from place to place in the film with overarching motivation.
The movie also lacks creativity at almost every turn. Many of the movie’s scenes are very close in content and construction to the British version, and the score is unoriginal and bland.
However, despite these shortcomings and the lack of originality in the film’s premise and plot, the movie can be genuinely funny at parts. Especially good are the one-liners placed throughout the film which add a certain comedic charm.
For example. when tying up Frank after he is accidentally drugged and knocked unconscious, Aaron remarks, “What do I look like, a serial killer? I don’t carry rope and duct tape around with me.” While in another particularly memorable scene, Jeff, a pharmacy student played by Columbus Short (“Stomp The Yard”), is asked about the origins of his hallucinogenic pills and replies, “I whipped a batch up for a friend,” a response which prompts Aaron to quip, “What friend, Amy Winehouse?”
Though unoriginal in almost every regard, “Death at a Funeral” brings funny, energetic characters to the screen and possesses some truly genuine laughs.
The movie is not exceptional, but it is able to find humor in its absolute absurdity. While by no means, as Michelle (Regina Hall) says, is this “the best eulogy anyone’s ever heard,” the film makes for an enjoyable, if mediocre, 90 minutes with a handful of outrageous and memorable scenes.