Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Death at a Funeral (2007)

For many of my fellow countrymen, when they hear the title Death at a Funeral, it may conjure up this image:

At least that is what I imagine – working in Times Square I can remember vividly with some shock and horror staring at the massive poster on an afternoon of lunchtime errands. I thought to myself – how could they remake a film that was perfectly adequate and really did not need ‘Americanizing.’ (*Full disclosure – I did not see this version, so I will try to refrain from making any comparisons to the finished products).

A remake, you say? Yes indeed this long awaited pairing of Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence is a remake. I am not sure about the word of mouth promotion of the Neil LaBute 2010 offering but I suspect that there may have been mention of the British comedy of the same name released three years prior.

Well that is the version that I am here to talk about …

The 2007 installment is directed by British-born American director-actor (live and voice)-puppeteer Frank Oz. The ensemble cast features many names probably unknown to American audiences. That is, with the exception of Peter Dinklage (who, strangely enough is in BOTH versions) and the frankly underused Alan Tudyk.

The story takes place at an English country house and it is a solemn occasion; a family is gathering for the funeral of its patriarch. Every character we are introduced to brings with them their own sets of issues which will make this otherwise somber event one that you will not forget anytime soon.

What particularly works for me about this film are the performances of the actors. With every absurd and ludicrous turn the story takes, there is an understated deadpan delivery to the material that made my response even more pronounced.

My favorite review of the film comes courtesy of Ruth Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle, in which she states:

in the tradition of those classics, in black-and-white and starring Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness, in which disasters keep piling up, each one more drolly funny than the last.

That’s high praise for “Death,” but no more than it deserves. The humor manages to be simultaneously sophisticated, supremely silly and very dark.

That said, I know that this film will not work for everyone, especially, as can be extrapolated by Stein’s review, people who are not fans of (or unfamiliar with)  the Ealing Studio comedies of the 1940s-and 50s which often featured Alec Guinness. If you do not like those films (Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets, etc.), then you may want to give this one a miss.

Has anyone seen the 2010 version? the 2007 version? Both? Let me know in the comments below.


* be sure to check out Todd Mason’s blog to read more contributions from some great bloggers.

Comments

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    I enjoyed the original enough that I didn’t want to sully it with a remake. Quite enjoyable.

  2. Jack Deth says:

    Hi, iluv and company:

    Much more prefer the strangely under rated Frank Oz’s 2007 hilarious gem.

    I have no idea why the idea was revisited under Neil LaBute’s clumsily intermittent hand.

    Absolutely no comparison between the two. When Alan Tudyk steals every scene he’s in and the comedic timing is very reminiscent of Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘Noises Off!’.

    • And Jack do not get me started on the oddity of having Peter Dinklage play the same character in both films … that is a blog/rant unto itself! I remember when Oz’s version came out in the UK. I kept one waiting to see about the US release. I was perplexed as to why the movie did not get much shine here. And then I saw the poster and it all made sense at once.

  3. I didn’t see the Oz version and only saw the Chris Rock-starring one. I have no context for comparison. I’ll just say this, the more recent installment of it, made me laugh in parts, but it doesn’t have much re-watch-ability, so to speak.

    • If you were to watch it (not sure you would) the actors in the original are not traditionally comedic actors (with a couple of exceptions). There collective previous works definitely tend to the dramatic. That is one major difference that I feel helps the Oz version. The mechanics and incidents are just so ludicrous that part of the fun in seeing how they react to the situation.

      Another Oz film of note is of course Bowfinger; in this case however you did have comedic actors but the atmosphere was so bizarre that it was quite funny.

  4. I was dismayed when they’re ‘Americanizing’ this film. The original was such a hoot! Even the poster is far superior in creativity! Anyhoo, I wish Macfadyen would do more comedy, he certainly has a knack for it.

  5. I’ve never seen any of these versions. I’m adding DEATH AT A FUNERAL to my queue. The Oz version, I mean. It sounds a hoot.

    I also think BOWFINGER was a very underrated movie. I thought it was hilarious.

  6. I’ve only seen the original (which I loved), but many people I respect say that the remake is even better (and both have Peter Dinklage, who was the magic ingredient…)

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