Synopsis: Peter Dinklage, Danny Glover, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana and Luke Wilson star in this hilarious comedy that puts the “fun” in “funeral”! When the patriarch of a dysfunctional family dies, his funeral turns into a family circus. Misplaced bodies, blackmail, indecent exposure and a corpse that won’t stay in the box get the party started, but when old family skeletons start tumbling out of the closet, all hell breaks loose.
eyelights: the cast. the premise.
eyesores: the picture comparable lack of subtlety.
“He looked good in that box. The rigor mortis set in well.”
Neil LaBute’s ‘Death at a Funeral’ is a remake of Frank Oz’s ‘Death at a Funeral‘. A direct remake, with most of the plot points remaining the same, it was released only three years after the original. Although it was criticized for being a lesser copy, it ended up being a box office winner, raking in five times its budget.
Let’s recap: The Barnes family has lost their patriarch and are preparing for his funeral, which is to take place in their home at the deceased’s behest. Unfortunately, a series of misadventures involving various family members, friends and a mysterious stranger turn this otherwise solemn occasion into a circus.
It’s a black comedy.
Honestly, I had never really intended to see this picture. Although I’m a fan of the 2007 version, which I enjoy more and more every time I see it, and I quite like Chris Rock, I didn’t see the need for an African-American version of the exact same story – both of which are in English. It seemed redundant to me.
But my growing love of the original eventually made me curious. So, when I had the opportunity to get this one for dirt cheap, I decided to take a chance. After all, I figured, I could easily make the money back by reselling it. And what’s 90 minutes, when there’s a chance of milking a few more laughs out of the it.
It turns out that ‘Death at a Funeral’ is exactly as I expected it to be: a faithful but less subtle adaptation, with the setting being transposed from the UK to the USA. It has most of the same gags, but many of the lines have been tweaked to reflect the personalities of its cast, which is basically a who’s who.
This picture is so close to its progenitor that even the opening credits are inspired by the original ones – although they’re more elaborate and have a punchy Sly and The Family Stone track (“Life”) backing it instead of the whimsical instrumental ditty in the other one. It’s an indicator that it will not stray much.
It also starts with the arrival of the hearse and Chris Rock’s somber character awaiting it. Soon we discover that it is the wrong corpse, making the picture’s intentions abundantly clear. But we also notice the beginning of what will become an issue: the overplaying of the part of the funeral home employee.
And this is the key problem with the 2010 version: its lack of subtlety. While the 2007 version wasn’t exactly subdued, it retained a British composure for much of the time. As the remake is filled with acclaimed comedians, many were allowed to run with their parts, dialing up the wackier, farce-like elements.
The perfect example is Chris Rock, who delightfully plays his part straight. Mostly: when it comes time for his character to deliver the eulogy, it is over-the-top and undignified. In fact, it’s totally unrealistic contextually: this character wouldn’t write this eulogy – let alone read it in public. But it’s Chris Rock, right?
Similarly, Peter Dinklage (who is the only returning player from the original), gives his character an appropriately elegiac tone, and winds up being more calculating and manipulative than he was – only to dial up the comedy towards the end. Subtlety, subtlety, subtlety… why doesn’t Hollywood know thee?
Hammering it home are Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan, hamming it up as always. The former isn’t completely awful, but he’s the weak link – and it doesn’t help that his character is a loser, making the combo hard to endure. Morgan plays a similar character as in the original, but with far less composure (which is hard to imagine!).
One of the better comedic turns in this picture is a nice surprise: James Marsden as Oscar, the uptight boyfriend who has inadvertently been given hallucinogens. This is a question of context, because his character is supposed to be out of his gourd. Thankfully, Marsden doesn’t overdo it, making him somewhat credible.
There are some minor changes along the way, for instance in the dialogues, but also in the character dynamics. A perfect example is the mom (and widow) who is really bitchy with Rock’s girlfriend, hassling her for not getting pregnant. That wasn’t cool. Or funny. Although getting Danny Glover to say “I’m too old for this $#!t” was.
Really, in the end, ‘Death at a Funeral’ is a funny film. It has to be: it is the same story, written by the same writer. But the director’s hand and the actor’s touches polish off the picture’s subtler, darker roots, going instead for a more farce-like quality. Ironically, this renders the results slightly less funny.
Would I recommend it? I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid it; it’s an entertaining 90 minutes with a good cast. But I would highly advise seeing the original instead: it has a finesse that this one doesn’t have. The only reason to see this one is for Chris Rock, who always defines whatever he’s in.
Otherwise, this ‘Death at a Funeral’ is indeed rather redundant.
Date of viewing: December 28, 2014