An uproarious comedy set at a proper English funeral? Frank Oz proves that it can and it should be done.
It's clear nothing will go right when responsible son Daniel (Matthew Macfayden) looks down into his father's coffin -- and it's not his father. Younger brother Robert (Rupert Graves), a hot-shot writer who lives in New York, is no help. He flirts with the attractive mourners and pleads poverty when asked to pay for his share of the funeral. Cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) brings new fiance Simon (Alan Tudyk), a nervous wreck whom she feeds a potent psychotropic she mistakes for Valium. Plus that strange, small man in the leather jacket (a phenomenally funny Peter Dinklage) has an agenda of his own. The unwelcome midget offers condolences first, and then brings out the compromising pictures of himself and dear old dad.
That's just a taste of the wacky antics that take place at what first appears to be a proper funeral. Frank Oz stacks joke upon joke upon joke; there's no time to catch your breath; Death at a Funeral is that funny. Alan Tudyk, an American comedian known primarily for his work on the TV show Firefly, practically runs away with the film. Tudky's broad physical comedy - a straight guy in the grips of an unexpected acid trip - ranges from a hysterical monologue in front of the bathroom mirror, a freak out by the coffin, and a naked climb up the roof.
The entire ensemble cast has opportunities to score laughs: the ugly guy (Ewen Brenner) who won't stop hitting on Martha, the bereaved widow with her attention-grabbing histrionics, the indifferent priest who only wants to get home on time, the dorky friend of the family who has the unfortunate job of bringing crotchety, wheelchair-bound Uncle Albert to the funeral, and later, to the bathroom. There's a feat: in Death At a Funeral even the over-the-top gross-out jokes work.
And that's not to mention what happens to the mysterious guest.
Underlying all the belly laughs is a basic truth: the push and pull of family, the unspoken, complicated dynamics that funerals often bring to the surface. The seemingly stock characters -- good son, bad son, family druggie -- are recognizable, but not cliches. More importantly, they are emphatic characters, which makes their day of hardship not only funny, but terrifically nerve wracking, and finally, unexpectedly touching.