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Sep 5, 2007

Fletch's Film Review: Death at a Funeral

I'm curious as to what the legacy of Frank Oz will be. He sure has had a strange and interesting career, as an actor, puppeteer, voice actor, director and even as a "muppet creative consultant." He's the voice of many cultural icons, from Grover to Bert to Cookie Monster to Miss Piggy and even Fozzie Bear, not to mention a little green guy from the Star Wars movies.

He's directed 12 feature films (half of which have been released since 1997) and even they are a varied bunch - he started with (not surprisingly) a Jim Henson production, the Muppets meets Lord of the Rings saga The Dark Crystal. That was followed by another Muppets movie, and that with a still-puppetted Little Shop of Horrors. The next 15 years were filled overwhelmingly with comedies, until 2001's heist flick The Score (though not great, pretty good and definitely worth watching if only to see three of the best actors of the last 50 years in one movie: Brando, DeNiro and Norton). A few years ago, he oversaw the disaster that was The Stepford Wives and now comes Death at a Funeral, a very "British" comedy brought to us by an American director and featuring two Americans (Alan Tudyk, playing British, and Peter Dinklage, not) in feature roles.

The guy should win a Lifetime Achievement Award for Versatility, if nothing else.

Death at a Funeral won't end up adding much to Oz's legacy, but it won't take anything away, either. It's pretty straightforward and predictable, yet picks up steam in the second half (always nice to see, as I find that most films do the opposite and lose interest towards the end) and is amusing throughout. A clever opening credit sequence sets up the film, as a coffin is delivered to a tony home in suburban London (I presume). Certain family and friends are spotlighted as they journey to the home, all with varying degrees of success. Though it features an ensemble cast, the film centers on the two sons of the dearly departed, played by Matthew Macfadyen and Rupert Graves.

A long line of goofs, gaffes, improprieties, random drug use, nudity and twists await the guests and they try to put the patriarch to rest, all the while dealing with an impatient Reverend. All that surrounds the real story, which is that of family and brotherhood, of dealing with mixed roles and responsibilities (or lack thereof). It's the warm and tender center of a film that will most likely be described as "zany" or "madcap" or some other dumb adjective. This play-like film won't change your life or keep you rolling in the aisles the whole time, but it is a cheery and fun time nonetheless.

Now, some random thoughts on the movie:

* Props to Andy Nyman for doing what is essentially a spot-on impersonation of (a British) George Costanza. Everything about the role screams "Costanza!," from the mysterious skin condition that his character is certain must be deadly, to having to deal with a pain-in-the-ass uncle. Perfect.

* Ewan Bremner (Trainspotting) appears in a small but memorable role as a lech trying to get back with a one-night stand from some years back. Always nice to see Spud.

* American Alan Tudyk (Dodgeball, Serenity) works double time, playing not only an acid-induced (unknowingly) guest, but employing a British accent all the while. He does a good job, too, if you ask me.

* As I stated previously, it's great to see Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) in a role that has nothing to do with his diminutive status. As hard a time as many minorities have in Hollywood getting parts that were "intended" for white actors, I imagine that little people have an even harder time, as first they must be taken seriously. Dinklage has succeeded thus far, and I wish him continued success. If you haven't seen The Station Agent, you should; Dinklage and Bobby Cannavale both give great performances.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."

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