Death at a Funeral
Directed by Frank Oz

Written by Dean Craig

Starring Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Rupert Graves


Death at a Funeral

Frank Oz's career has moved from directing the Muppets to directing classic farces like "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and the great musical "Little Shop of Horrors," though somewhere along the way he got trapped into directing that essence of bomb "The Stepford Wives." But now he seems to have regained his wit and his touch; "Death at a Funeral" is, if not perfect (what is, after all?), at least a grand farce in the old and honorable tradition of English, meaning straitlaced and understated, wit. And I must say it was a pleasure to see it at a screening filled with people in hysterics.

It's the funeral of the father of two brothers: Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen), a man who's worked on his first novel for three years now and is being badgered by his wife to move out of the family home; and his brother Robert (Rupert Graves), a successful novelist who's moved to a New York penthouse. The funeral is held at the widow's house, and all the members of the family, along with a few friends and fiancees are also there, plus one stranger, the perfectly cast Peter Dinklage, whom no one knows. When we find out why he is there (I won't tell) it is one of the many delicious moments in the film.

But there's much more: A fiance (Alan Tudyk) is too nervous about meeting the family, so his lover gives him what she thinks is a valium but turns out to be a potent psychedelic made by a recreational chemist who is also at the funeral; the trip he goes on, from hallucination to a oneness with nature to abject depression, is Oz at his directing best. Then, of course, there is the obligatory noise from the coffin (beautifully done here), the elderly uncle in a wheelchair who needs a bathroom, the tension between the brothers (will Daniel be a man or a mouse?) and much more that Oz just records without commenting or making too much of it.

In a year that seems to have gone crazy over raunch - I think of "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" - this is a classic, old-fashioned comedy that combines moments of Feydeau farce with English drawing-room humor with some well-done slapstick. It's a breath of fresh air.