Death At A Funeral is a strange little farce. There are some great comic highs — mostly courtesy of Alan Tudyk as an unwitting tester of a strong hallucinogen — and some very neatly handled emotions. Somehow though, things don’t quite gel into a satisfactory whole. The action, as the title suggests, takes place at the funeral of a respected and respectable, slightly anonymous gentleman. His status is more as the late father of brothers Daniel (Macfadyen) and Robert (Graves) and as the late husband of widow Sandra (Asher). While other members of the family have their own problems to deal with — particularly cousin Martha (Donovan) and her aforementioned hallucinating fiancé, along with cantankerous Uncle Alfie (Vaughan) — it’s Daniel and Robert with the biggest dilemma. Which is ironic as it’s come in the diminutive form of Peter Dinklage, a mystery guest who, it transpires, knew their father a little too well.
The result, in between the neatly observed familial stuff, is a whoops-there-goes-my-trousers style farce that doesn’t quite ignite where it needs to. Oz has declared that he wanted honesty, that for the cast to acknowledge that it’s all a bit of a wheeze would undermine the truth of the piece and yes, he’s got a point. However, given the choice of a farce played flat out for laughs with intermittent moments of reality, or an occasionally well-observed character study with only intermittent laughs, well, I’d plump for the former every time. As it stands, it’s neither as good nor as funny as it needs to be. The performances are decent enough, particularly Tudyk and Macfadyen, but it’s all in vain as the film falls, with a virtually audible thump, well between two stools.
SECOND OPINION | Craig McPherson ***½ Death At a Funeral is almost an anachronism in that virtually nobody is making grand farces anymore. The movie plays out as one large black screwball comedy that, while uneven at times, largely hits all the right notes and makes for some enjoyably twisted viewing. With a large ensemble cast comprised largely of supporting veterans of the British stage and screen, Death at a Funeral tells the story of a rural English funeral for the family patriarch that quickly degenerates into a panoply of gaffes and embarrassments with comic precision akin to one big Rube Goldberg machine.
Take one large extended upper middle class British family, mix in some acid mistaken for valium, add a dash of homosexual interloper bent on blackmailing the heirs into paying him hush money, sprinkle on assorted quirky family members and a crusty old uncle, and you have all the ingredients for a fine comedy. While Oz takes the credit for having a keen director’s eye and spotting the gold in Craig’s script, it’s the screenplay that is the real star of this film. In lesser hands Death in a Funeral might have veered into little more than a pedestrian comedy. Instead, peppered with sublimely funny dialogue and ever-mounting self-perpetuating absurdist scenarios, at its worst it left me grinning from ear-to-ear, and at its best snorting and guffawing out loud.