Thursday 3 June 2010

Obscurity Files #9 - Death At A Funeral

SLACKER Obscurity Files aims to put the spotlight onto a series of films that time and audiences have otherwise forgotten. With the Chris Rock remake out in cinemas this weekend, we thought it might be good time to look at Frank Oz's original 2007 version of Death at a Funeral.

More after the jump...

After the death of his father, Daniel invites all the family into his home to give him a quiet dignified send-off. His cocky author brother and a bottle of hallucinogenics could put a spanner in the works though. Add to that the appearance of a mysterious friend of his father carrying a dark secret, and this funeral's about to go off the rails.

Featuring an almost all British cast, this 2007 comedy is a jolly old farce featuring all the squabbling and bitching you'd expect to see at any family get-together. The comedy comes from how the family react to these grave dilemmas, with a carry on regardless attitude to some clearly escalating situations.

Daniel (Matthew MacFayden) is in mourning for his father, but also has his house-hunting wife and an unpublished first novel to worry about. So when Peter (Peter Dinklage), a man who claims to know his father very well, arrives with some peculiar photos and outrageous demands, he's not quite sure how to react. He holds a dark secret that could tear his family apart. If only Daniel had seen the signs.

And it's not just Daniel who's having trouble at this funeral. His cousin Martha has come to the funeral with her boyfriend Simon, who is beyond nervous at seeing Martha's disapproving father again. To calm Simon's nerves she gives him one of her brother Troy's Valium, it's just a shame that Troy has filled the bottle with Hallucinogenic acid which he planned to sell later. It's not long before Simon starts to react to the drugs, and Martha must try and keep him composed throughout the funeral or face the wrath of her father.

Faced with his elevating condition, there's no way Martha and Troy can keep Simon's problem in the dark for long. Her father is keeping a close eye on him, and it was bound to come out at the worst moment.

So now for Daniel there's his wife pressuring him into buying a new home, his arrogant brother who won't pay anything towards the funeral, a short man in the study demanding £15,000 or he shows everyone his photos and finally one of the guests has gone completely loopy. He needs to just sit down and think about this situation, but his mother is in tears and the vicar is keen to restart the service. At least Simon has found a way to relax and not worry about the acid.

This film is a bit of an odd one. When I first heard about it I had absolutely no desire to watch it. I'm a fan of British comedy but we tend to make some crappy films, so I only tracked it down when I heard it was bizarrely being remade by Chris Rock. Why would you remake a film that is less than three years old? Obviously it's a situation with great comic potential, but this is a resolutely British film. It may be directed by Frank Oz and have its two most memorable characters played by Americans, but Death at a Funeral is the epitome of British reservedness. There's no bombastic displays of affection, just polite nonchalance to those that are closest to you.

There's a fantastic turn here by Alan Tudyk as Simon, the poor idiot who took the acid. If you want to compare him to James Marsden in the American remake, Tudyk's face is a lot goofier looking and his reactions are more unpredictable, so I'd give him the edge. When Peter Dinklage walks in you know that he's going to be the little guy with the big secret, and again I think he's more effective here than in the remake where he reprises his role.

All of the British cast are fine if unremarkable in their roles. Matthew MacFayden is very reserved among the mayhem in the lead role of Daniel, but a lot of the relatives fail to make an impact. The one standout is Andy Nyman as the hypochondriac Howard, who is given a memorable scene with Peter Vaughn as the crotchety old Uncle Alfie.

As a Frank Oz film, it never reaches the comedic heights of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or Bowfinger, but I believe he's achieved what he set out to do here; mine this situation for all its comic potential and place a mirror up to family life. The fact that he says some things about British society I think was a happy accident. I never expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did. Sure it's quite mainstream, but it's original enough and keeps the farce going for the whole 90 minutes running time.

Save from obscurity? YES

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