Death at a Funeral

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Laughter is involuntary! It doesn't know how to behave

Aug 18, 2008 (Updated Aug 18, 2008)
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  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:Very imaginative writing, I thought. A dark comedy that wasn't violent.

Cons:One gross scene could've been left out. One more like it would've downgraded my rating.

The Bottom Line: I laughed at this one a lot and it seemed to get funnier as I remembered it later. Its shock value was, with one exception, presented as tastefully as possible.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

The plot was very simple and it didn't really go anywhere. The purpose of the movie doesn't really depend on much of a plot.

In a nutshell, there's a funeral planned at a home outside London. The funeral gives a backdrop and a context for the mishaps that ensue. The mood of the movie is set by one initial screw up by the funeral home. They deliver a casket containing the wrong body.

The humor is dark, but palatable (except for one gross scene described below). The humor is either playfully imparted or implied in a way that doesn't subject us to much violence or blood and guts.

Death is serious, we all know that. It shouldn't be laughed at, that's a given. However, certain things tickle our funny bones, appropriate or not! The humor in this movie struck me that way. At first I would be surprised, shocked, and/or amazed, with an " my God!" reaction--and then I would laugh!

The repeated accidental dosing of mescaline, from a bottle thought to contain Valium, caused some "Oh no!" but hilarious circumstances. In fact, the humor is largely contingent on this bungle. This is especially true for one of the characters who actually winds up stark naked on the roof where the service is being held. He's bug-eyed, reeling from hallucinations, and his actions and facial expressions are the crowning blow to the otherwise anemic attempt of the family and friends of the departed to keep an air of dignity surrounding the occasion.

Noteworthy is the fact that circumstances cause two bodies to wind up in the coffin at once, placed in a position relative to each other that is both poetic (considering the relationship of the two when they were alive) and visually hilarious!

The movie is full of absurd and funny blunders and it shows that we enjoy laughing at someone else's human frailties.

The main characters are two sons of the deceased.

There’s a dutiful son, Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen), who sees taking care of his family obligations as a responsibility that he would not dream of dodging. He feels the onus of making sure that his father gets a proper burial, getting it paid for, and that his mother (Sandra, played by Jane Asher) is not left to live alone.

There's another, more free-spirited son (a published author), Robert, played by Rupert Graves, who's a bit selfish and thinks life is more all about him and for him. He dodges Daniel's request that he take a turn with having Mom live with him for a while and claims to have no ready cash to help with the funeral expense due to the unfortunate high cost of living the glamorous life of a published author.

Besides the above, there are other sources of tension (but we still get a chuckle out of them) between the brothers. Even though Daniel is a better human being, it's Robert that everyone fusses over--probably because of his accomplishments as a writer. Just before Daniel is to deliver his father's eulogy he has to endure overhearing a number of the people in attendance express their surprise and disappointment that he, and not Robert, will be giving the eulogy. Also, we find out that Daniel aspires to be an author too, though he's struggling to come up with a saleable product.

These two sons, because of the safety in numbers, pull together pretty well when they are faced with a blackmailer (Peter, played by Peter Dinklage). Peter, though claiming to have been very close to the deceased, manages to keep his grief contained while dealing with the tedium of presenting the terms of his blackmail.

Other family members deal with their own agendas. They all try to make the reason for the gathering at least appear as their primary concern, but they barely, if indeed they do, manage to convince each other of that (and they don’t fool me for a moment).

Jane (Keeley Hawes), Daniel's wife, nags him (even has he tries to gather his final thoughts about what he'll say in his father's eulogy) about mundane everyday details such as putting a deposit on a flat they intend to move into after the funeral.

Martha (the niece of the deceased, played by Daisy Donovan) squabbles with three different people during the course of the funeral and is constantly dealing with the involuntary misbehavior of her fiancÚ, Simon (Alan Tudyk). He is one of the unfortunate guests, usually responsible and reserved, who has accidentally been dosed with what is thought to be Valium.

The grief of the deceased's nephew, Troy (Kris Marshall), is dulled a bit by his uptight concerns that he'll be in all kinds of trouble when it's discovered that the mescaline belongs to him, especially since someone appears to have died as a result.

Howard (Andy Nyman) has been roped into bringing Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan) to the funeral. Alfie is a foul-tempered, quite elderly, wheelchair-bound, and extremely impatient old man who's completely self-centered. I'll bet the words, "thank you" have not passed his lips in the last 40 years and he has a cane that he uses for thrashing others when it is needed to further the timely fruition of his demands. Howard is not happy with having to bring Uncle Alfie to the service and is especially hacked off when Martha beats him out of a good parking space, causing him to have to wheel Uncle Alfie a long distance uphill to get to the house. Howard further manages to divert his attention away from the reason for the gathering with his preoccupation and worry over a slight skin discoloration on his wrist.

Victor (Peter Egan) is the terse brother-in-law of the deceased, Sandra's brother and Martha's father. His attention seems riveted to Simon, watching every misstep and just waiting for the opportunity to let Martha know of his displeasure at her choice of fiancÚ.

The priest (Thomas Wheatley) loses his reserved and compassionate deportment a bit when mishaps which interrupt the timely completion of the funeral put him behind schedule.

Gross is not my thing. There is one scene where Uncle Alfie needs help getting to the bathroom in a hurry. He needs to have a bowel movement. Howard is saddled with helping him. They make it, getting his trousers down and getting him centered on the pot, just in time. However, much to my dismay (and Howard's), there was some unfortunate spewing of greenish stool onto Howard's hands and face. I could’ve done completely without that scene! Even the day after I saw the film, I had to take fight off the return of that visual. It was gross! The story would've been as funny without it!

Recommend this product? Yes

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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