Sep 052007
Authors: Jeff Schwartz

**** out of *****

While at home this weekend visiting my family I went to our local movie theater in Highlands Ranch and caught a showing of “Death at a Funeral,” a superb little British comedy released late last month. As of right now, “Death” is not showing at any area Fort Collins theaters, but when it comes out later this year I highly recommend putting it in your Netflix cue or checking it out at Blockbuster. It is an absolutely charming film that catches you unawares and, by its end, should have you in tears from laughing so hard.

The film takes place on an English country estate where Daniel (Matthew MacFayden) is hosting his father’s funeral. In attendance are a bevy of Daniel’s relatives, including his brother Robert (Rupert Graves), his cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan), Martha’s straight-laced fianc/ Simon (Alan Tudyk), and her ne’er-do-well brother Troy (Kris Marshall).

There are a host of other characters, and in the hands of a lesser director the movie could have become hopelessly confusing, but Frank Oz manages to deftly introduce each new character in a way that allows for a minimum of confusion.

Daniel intends the funeral to be a small, dignified event, but this noble ambition is quickly shattered.

First Robert tells Daniel that he can’t pay his portion of the funeral costs for several months, thus derailing Daniel and his wife’s desire to move into a new apartment.

Then, Martha, in an effort to calm her anxious husband’s nerves gives him what she thinks is Valium, but which turns out to be a highly hallucinogenic drug concoted by Troy.

Daniel must also contend with Peter (Peter Dinklage), a blackmailing dwarf intent on unveiling an unexpected family secret. And so on.

The situations that comprise “Death at a Funeral” grow steadily more absurd, but what ultimately makes the film so funny is the characters’ attempts to remain calm and proper in the face of one disaster after another.

Particularly hilarious are the scenes where Martha tries to reign in her hallucinating husband, who at one point climbs naked onto the roof of the house.

Oz and screenwriter Dean Craig also deserve kudos for their ability to interweave the film’s disparate subplots together, so that characters who may not even know each other at the beginning end up inextricably linked by the end.

I hesitate to include more detail about specific scenes because I don’t want to ruin the film’s comedic joys for any prospective viewers. But trust me when I say this is one funny film.

“Death at a Funeral” falls flat with developing a few characters, but it’s consistently funny and occasionally hilarious.

And in its humor the film also manages, in that unassuming way of the British, to prove Mark Twain’s venerable assertion that “the secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow.”

Jeff Schwartz can be reached at

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