DVD of the Week – Review of Death at a Funeral (2007)
by NIR SHALEV
As a tribute to the new 2010 remake Death at a Funeral, which sucks, I chose to review the original, which is so good on its own that it didn’t need a remake; maybe a boycotting of the remake.
The story centers on Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) whose father had recently died. Friends and family from around the globe are gathering at his country home for the funeral but Daniel has a problem: he and his wife need to place a deposit on a flat in the city and the funeral is sucking them dry. That’s why Daniel’s brother Robert (Rupert Graves) is being depended upon to pay for half of the funeral. However, as he arrives from New York he tells Daniel that he’s flat broke, even for a successful writer. How is this great comedy? Well, I’m just getting started.
Martha (Daisy Donovan) is bringing her fiancée Simon (Alan Tudyk) to the funeral. On their way to the funeral they drop by her brother Troy’s (Kris Marshall) apartment and she finds a bottle of valium lying around. She gives Simon a pill to swallow and only much later finds out that it was a concoction of a hallucinogenic drug. Hilarity ensues.
So now the comedy is kicking it up a notch. However the best parts belong to a dwarf named Peter (Peter Dinklage). He asks to speak to Daniel in private and informs him that he and Daniel’s father were lovers. He shows photographic evidence of their sexual escapades and now Daniel understands that his father had not only had an affair but that he was also a homosexual. Robert is eventually informed as to the situation because Peter demands 15,000 pounds in compensation, seeing that Daniel and Robert’s father had left him out of the will. So not only does Daniel have to pay for the entire funeral but he cannot place a deposit on the flat in the city and now owes the dwarf 15,000 pounds in blackmail.
“So, how is this movie funny?” you ask. Well, it’s because director Frank Oz asks his actors to take the material seriously. Much like in Dr. Strangelove (1964), the characters portrayed within are not aware that they’re funny. They speak using sentences that are heard on a daily basis, with the exception that they’re entirely grammatically correct but they seem to be legitimately concerned about the situations that occur. This is a deadpan comedy that works very well because of the dialogue that is heard within. The situations become hilarious because we understand early on that this is a comedy (the film’s opening has the coffin brought into the country home by pallbearers and Daniel soon after informs them that it’s not his father inside it). If one character doesn’t know that they’re funny then that’s up to the screenwriter to portray that in the script, and it’s up to the director to make sure that the actor plays the character as if in a drama; unless it’s underplayed too much. Here, the actors are pretty much pitch perfect.
I’d recently viewed the remake that stars Chris Rock, a terrible actor; Martin Lawrence, a terribly miscast actor; Danny Glover, the only good part in this; and Tracy Morgan who plays his character as if he’s oblivious that he’s at a funeral. It was played for comedy’s sake and slapstick and seemed to be based on the exact same script that the original film is based on. I’d viewed these films back to back and noticed that they contain the exact same story and story arc, the exact same jokes, the exact same characters, and even the exact same lines of dialogue to the tee. The main reason that the remake is terrible is because the actors can’t keep a straight face throughout. They play it like slapstick comedy and we are sitting, watching them as they wait for the punch-lines and almost look over at the camera and wink. Personally, they might as well. I’d almost turned it off seeing that I knew exactly where the comedy was headed and that it was a complete rip-off of the original.
If your DVD rental store is out of stock on the original then by all means skip the remake and watch Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. It may not be a comedy but it has enough dark, sly humor to upstage the Death at a Funeral remake.
New releases this week: Date Night, Death at a Funeral (2010), The Joneses