What makes British humor so damn funny? First we get Hot Fuzz, easily the funniest new comedy since, well, the equally British Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Now Death at a Funeral (directed by an American but still very stiff-upper-lip) passes them all on the laugh meter. To put it simply, you get very few chances to not laugh in this Dean Craig/Frank Oz collaboration.
Death has always been a funny business, if you look at it that way. Family members who haven’t spoken in years come together to mourn a lost loved one, and everyone’s feeling sad, off-center, and vulnerable. Talk about fertile grounds for comedy.
This particular family’s chaos swirls around the hapless Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen), who’s just lost his father. Although he’s married, Daniel appears to have never quite cut the apron strings, living with his wife and mother. His wife is pushing him to put a deposit down on a flat and move away, but he isn’t doing it. Deeply resentful of his successful novelist brother, Daniel is trying to get the funeral done with decency and decorum. No way that’s going to happen.
First of all, there’s Simon (Alan Tudyk). He seems like a reasonable, nice enough guy, if a bit nervous. The nervousness is understandable–this funeral is taking him into the heart of his girlfriend’s family, and they don’t approve of him. But when he unknowingly takes a very powerful hallucinogenic, he confirms every prejudice that family has of him, and steals the movie..
Fans of the short-lived Firefly TV series will remember Tudyk as the wisecracking Wash, and he also plays the doctor in 3:10 To Yuma. But his accidental acid head here is his best work yet. Whether he’s examining a leaf, insisting that something in the coffin is moving, or sitting naked on the roof overcome with joy or sorrow, his performance is utterly convincing and breathtakingly hilarious. The movie is very funny when Tudyk isn’t on screen, but its his scenes that leave you gasping for breath. The Texas-born Tudyk also manages a convincing English accent.
The other Yank in the cast, the always dependable Peter Dinklage, doesn’t attempt an accent. No one ever mentions his American voice, but that hardly seems important. As a close friend of the deceased with a dark secret, he gives the family something far more important to worry about then the nation of his origins. Let’s just say that he’s as close as anyone comes to being Death at a Funeral’s villain, and pays dearly for his actions.
The mourners also include a mean-spirited, disabled, foul-mouthed old uncle, a hypochondriac, an annoying selfish jerk carrying a torch for a woman who can’t stand him, and the aforementioned successful novelist brother, who’s also a selfish jerk, but one who’s good-looking and smooth enough to get away with it.
All of these characters are male. Writer Dean Craig doesn’t seem to think women are funny. Death at a Funeral’s female characters are all level-headed, reasonable, and as in control as they can be considering the loony men in their lives. It’s a cast of female Abbots playing of male Costellos.
If you go to Death at a Funeral expecting political correctness–or for that matter, fully developed and believable characters–you’ll be disappointed. This one is strictly for the laughs.