'Death at a Funeral' is anything but morbid

Director Frank Oz's comedy blends refined British humor with knockabout silliness.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

British comedy has a long tradition of being farcical to the point of utter lunacy while still managing to seem hyperliterate. American comedy, by contrast, has a history of being goofy to the point of utter lunacy while rarely seeming literate at all. (Preston Sturges movies are the mighty exception.)

"Death at a Funeral" is a passable example of the British species of comedy. Directed by Frank Oz ("Bowfinger," "In and Out"), it has the requisite amount of knockabout silliness.

The morbid proceedings are, of course, a perfect counterpoint to the hijinks. A divided family gathers for the funeral of their patriarch. Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) is the most level headed; his famous novelist brother Frank (Rupert Graves), who has grudgingly flown in from New York, is the most conceited. Their cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) and her strait-laced fiancé Simon (Alan Tudyk), are also in on the grim festivities. And then there's a mysterious interloper (Peter Dinklage) who claims to have been close to the deceased. Very close.

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Audience who think poop jokes are the exclusive province of Hollywood summer yockfests will be surprised by "Death at a Funeral." But that's pretty standard music-hall comedy stuff. What distinguishes this film most of all is its intense need to provide a laugh – any kind of a laugh, high or low – at every moment.

The results, as one might imagine, are a bit exhausting. Just about every gag in this movie, which was written by Dean Craig, is funny the first time around – but not so much the second or third or eighth time. Simon, for example, has a running joke where, after accidentally swallowing a designer drug on his way to the funeral, he strips naked in front of his prospective and greatly unamused father-in-law. A little of this goes a long way.

Still, one can have a reasonably fun time at this movie, which has the advantage of not targeting itself exclusively for tween slackers. If you are looking for an exceptional comedy on a similar theme, try to rent Juzo Itami's "The Funeral," which he made two years before his classic noodle comedy "Tampopo." Grade: B

Rated R for language and drug use.

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