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Brit Comedies: Part 2     

Posted by Katherine Putnam on April 4th, 2010

“Tea can do many things, Jane, but it can’t bring back the dead.”

Before we start I’m sad to say that an American remake of Death at a Funeral has been made. Because evidently Hollywood has nothing new to offer so they’re doing a remake three years after the original. From the preview I saw it looked absolutely atrocious; it looks like the typical in-your-face, let’s-explain-every-joke-we-make American comedy failure. Just because the original was creative, hysterical and memorable doesn’t mean you need to make another (lesser) version of it. (For those unafraid of spoilers check out a scene-by-scene review of the two versions here.)

But enough with warning you away from the American knock off, let’s talk about the original…

“Was there a dog in here just now?”

“What are you doing in my dad’s coffin?”

Frank Oz’s 2007 film, Death at a Funeral, is (as you could have guessed) one of my all time favorite films. It’s one of those comedies that you can’t wait to watch with a new group of people for the enjoyment of seeing their reactions and hearing their guffaws as the scenes that split your sides also split theirs. It’s a film that has such awkward moments, such outrageous scenarios and such hysterical lines that I had to assure my friend Holly that she could and should stick it out until the end: that the payoff was worth the discomfort she felt for the characters and the situations.

For those of you who (like me) who like recognizing actors from their previous works I present to you Matthew Macfayden (2005’s Pride and Prejudice), Rupert Graves (V for Vendetta), Peter Dinklage (Prince Caspian, Elf), Kris Marshall (Love, Actually; My Family) and last, but not least, the one and only Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Serenity, Dodgeball, A Knight’s Tale). These are only the actors that I recognized on my first viewing of the movie, and the cast is rounded out by many other skilled actors (especially skilled since they miraculously made it through filming without laughing in every take…how I’ll never know) who all work together seamlessly to create this comedic masterpiece.

I can’t say much about the plot (or even the humor) without giving away much of what makes the movie funny and the humor work. I’ll briefly say that the movie takes place during, you guessed it, a funeral wherein the family attempts to maintain proper dignity, mourning and solemnity throughout the extraordinarily trying events of the morning which include, but are not limited to: accidental drug ingestion, a crotchety old uncle, an inept undertaker, a sibling rivalry, a lascivious mourner out to win the (currently engaged) object of his lust, and the mysterious appearance of a dwarf that no one at the funeral seems to know…

Every time I try and describe how or why this movie is so funny I feel as though I’m not expressing it well enough. Part of the humor is due to the Britishness (for lack of a better word) of the delivery, facial expressions, settings, etc. The juxtaposition of the outrageous events against the proper, stiff upper lip British attitude makes the events funny and allows us to suspend our disbelief over their ridiculousness instead of focusing on how over the top some of the scenarios are. Part of the humor comes from how committed the actors are to their outlandish characters and actions (especially Alan Tudyk). Part of it is simply the writing. Yes, the situations are implausible, but they’re witty and (as far as I can tell) rather original. Part of it is the impeccable timing in the cuts between scenes and characters, the timing of lines and events. I feel as though I won’t and can’t win anyone over to this movie with this inadequate description because, as I said, I can’t explain why this movie is so funny, it simply is.

So if my bumbling description hasn’t made you completely lose interest in Death at a Funeral then I highly recommend that you go out and watch it right now! (Although I’ll briefly warn that there is coarse language, nudity, drug use and references to sex and sexuality, for those who may wish to take a pass due to such content.)

 NEXT TIME: Hot Fuzz

P.S. – As if you couldn’t tell, the writing and acting are what really make a movie for me. I can usually tell whether the cinematography, lighting, sound, editing, etc is good or bad but those usually (but not always) aren’t the points that sell a movie for me. However, next time (on Hot Fuzz) you’ll actually see a movie post from me that not only talks about the writing and acting but also talks about aspects like editing, sound, camera work, etc!

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