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Gallows humor

Movies | Fans of British comedy will like Death at a Funeral

Issue: "Effective Compassion," Sept. 1, 2007

Tea can do many things, Jane, but it can't bring back the dead." So states Sandra (Jane Asher), the matriarch of a dysfunctional British family dealing with the death of a family member, in director Frank Oz's Death at a Funeral. It is a movie that fits squarely in the tradition of British comedy, mixing bawdiness, slapstick, and irreverence to clever effect.

Rated R for drug content, language, and nudity, Death at a Funeral features an ensemble cast but focuses most closely on Daniel (Matthew McFadyen), the youngest son of the deceased. His desires to honor his father in a dignified manner and to write a book outside of the shadow of his successful novelist brother Robert (Rupert Graves) provide the movie's underlying conflict.

Circumstances and funeral guests seem determined, however, to dash both desires. The movie opens with the undertaker delivering the wrong body, and decorum disintegrates further as relatives and friends arrive. Family members tangle over parking spaces, cousin Martha's (Daisy Donovan) fiancé (Alan Tudyk) accidentally takes hallucinogenic drugs to embarrassing effect, and brothers argue over who will pay the funeral expenses.

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The initial conflicts lead to an incident so unimaginable at a funeral that audience members at my screening were left gasping in shock and laughing at the same time. In true farce form, the funeral unravels as disaster follows disaster, with Daniel and Robert finally coming together to try to maintain the dignity of the proceedings.

While the movie's message is decidedly humanistic, the physical comedy and ridiculous scenarios make it immensely entertaining. Fans of British comedy will enjoy Death at a Funeral. Those less enamored of the genre may find it harder to take.


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