Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with an early test screening review for Frank Oz's new directorial effort, DEATH AT A FUNERAL. From the sounds of this early review, Oz is back to form after the disaster area that is called THE STEPFORD WIVES. I'm always going to give Oz the benefit... I mean, the man gave the world THE DARK CRYSTAL, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (yes, I love the musical), DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS and, one of my favorites, WHAT ABOUT BOB? The below review is very positive, even at this early stage, and especially loves up on Alan Tudyk. I had the pleasure of seeing Tudyk fill in for Hank Azaria in SPAMALOT on Broadway and he was fall-down funny. Sounds like he's got another scene-stealer in this flick. Can't wait to see it! Tudyk and The Dink? I'm so there. Enjoy the review... the spoilers are mild, but you'll know more than you did before reading it.
Julius here, back from a screening of the Frank Oz directed comedy "Death at a Funeral" costarring Mathew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves, Peter Dinklage and Alan Tudyk and a bunch of lesser known British actors clearly well-oiled in the art of English comedy/farce. I'm feeling a little guilty because I'd signed one of cards asking us not to write about this film, of which we evidently saw the first public screening, but I had such a good time, have only a minor complaint, and can report that the audience response was raucous and gleeful, so I don't think the filmmakers will mind this leak.
At first glance this film looks like a typical English comedy in the "4 Weddings and a Funeral" and "Love, Actually" mode and certainly people who enjoyed those films should enjoy this too. hey, even friends of Merchant Ivory Jane Austen stylings will be intrigued by the additions of Rupert Graves (Maurice, Room with a View) and Mathew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice) in the cast. What's an Anglophobe to do? Well, Fanboys will recoginize Alan Tudyk from his role in Serenity/Firefly. And American Indie and comedy fans may be intrigued by the inclusion of Peter Dinklage (the Station Agent, Elf). I'm not sure if the role was initially written for someone of his stature (4 feet), or if they just added a few lines referencing this fact after casting (they never bother explaining his American accent), but Peter Dinklage being cast in the role he plays (I don't want to give away anything here) makes his part all the more intriguing and ultimately uproariously funny. Casting him was a stroke of genius. Also the presence of director Frank Oz (Bowfinger, In and Out, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) should be seen as encouraging.
Another stroke of genius was casting Alan Tudyk. I was first wondering what is he doing here playing a Brit (with a perfect accent) in this otherwise veddy British cast. Then I saw what happens to his character, which I may need to "spoil" to explain, don't read the rest of this paragraph if you don't want to know: His character accidentally ingests a potent hallucinogenic drug, and spends most of the movie in a state of high comedy tripping, half the time stark naked. Alan Tudyk's facial expressions and physicality are outrageously funny. I don't even see the best of our current physical comedy matching him for sheer lunatic brilliance as well as touching likeability as he struggles with his drug induced dementia. And his body is VERY nice to look at too (sorry, Jim, sorry, Will).
So by now you might be guessing that this film is less romantic or genial British comedy and more total British farce. It has all the hallmarks of traditional British farce: inappropriate nudity, sexual indiscretions (but not as much as usual in British farce), doors opened and quickly slammed shut, trying to keep people from seeing weird things they shouldn't see, plus some scatological comedy in the Dumb and Dumber vein (which I normally don't care for but here had me laughing loudly with everybody else anyway). Mathew Macfadyen does an excellent job trying to be the sane center in an increasingly turbulent storm - all he asked for, he says at one point, was for his father to have a dignified funeral; right, good luck on that, mate - and Rupert Graves is very good as his rotten brother. The other cast members are all uniformly good playing their parts, which require them to ably color in their comic archetypes of varying degrees of befuddlement, venality, or desperation to seem human within the comedy machine that is farce, and they all do this very well.
The story should be basically clear by now: the funeral of a family patriarch becomes the setting for all sorts of farcical shenanigans. The title "Death at a Funeral" hints that the Patriarch may not be the only corpse by the end of the movie, and a lot of suspense is generated as several characters end up in situations which may lead to their demise. I won't give away who or how many dead there finally are, except to add (slight spoiler) that at one point there is more than one body in the coffin... Frank Oz directs with a sure hand. He knows how to sustain comedy tone, although I've never seen him do something so very English. But his track record shows a deft hand with comedy that is both physical as well as dialog dependant, and this is another such film. I have been highlighting the pratfalls and physical back and forths, but actually, most of the comedy here is character and dialog driven, even at its most frenetic, and it is a very well written script (by who? I'm sorry I don't have that info). At the end they even manage to pull off the "touching speech" for some moral perspective without getting sappy. It helps that Mathew Macfadyen is so very good playing the pasty harried Everyman who becomes the moral center of this nutty universe. I didn't recognize him as having been the hunk Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and I saw that film 5 times (twice in the theatre)!
If I have one complaint it is that the women get the short end of the comedy stick here. There are only 3 significant female parts to about a dozen males, and only one of the women really is fully utilized - the character Martha (don't know the actress' name) - she is very good, but mostly has to react to the funny around her, doesn't get to be so funny herself. So that would be my one criticism, not enough funny for the women, the guys get to do all the good stuff. But it is good. Don't be turned off by the title. I almost was and am happy I went to the screening after all.