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The fun starts right away, behind the opening titles. The schematic drawing a coffin proceeds along the winding roads of an English top map, leaving a dotted line in its wake. If you're paying any attention at all, you'll observe that the coffin isn't traveling the shortest distance between two points. It circles a roundabout one and a half times before continuing on its way. It makes the wrong turn onto a motorway, backs up, and turns around. So it comes as no surprise that, at the start of the film proper, the casket that's carried from the hearse into the pretty house, and deposited in the blandly charming drawing room, turns out to contain the wrong body.
Frank Oz's extremely funny Death at a Funeral is a good old-fashioned British farce. Embarrassment and mortification lurk round every corner. There's a terrible, and quite protracted, case of mistaken identity. Dealing with an unforeseen blackmailer leads to locked doors and manhandling. One deluded soul interrupts the service with shrieks of horror, convinced that he has seen the casket move. (Later, he will have the opportunity to say, "I knew it!") Along the way, the widow, Sandra (Jane Asher) will keep her hat on; her semi-estranged sons, Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) and Robert (Rupert Graves) will make up, and Matthew's wife, Jane (Keeley Hawes), will beam proudly at her husband; cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) will repel the smarmy attentions of Justin (Ewen Bremner) and stand up to her father (Peter Egan) in defense of her fiancÚ (Alan Tudyk); her brother, Troiy (Kris Marshall) will find his pills; family friend Howard (Andy Nyman) will manage not to kill Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan); and Peter (Peter Dinklage) will manage to survive. I'm not sure that the thinly veneered Reverend (Thomas Wheatley) will be where he's supposed to be at three o'clock, though.
More than that, I cannot tell you. There was a moment, when the guests were taking their seats again so that the service could resume, when I felt a stab of regret that, until then, I'd experienced only at really good parties: the recognition that things are winding down, because they have to. Not that there was anything anti-climactic about what was happening on screen. Even if there had been, it would have been stifled by the free-for-all that erupted moments later. When at last the movie ended, it did so on a perfect lark. But during all the frenzy in the middle of Death at a Funeral, I was reduced to childishly hoping that the fun would just go on forever.
Everyone in the cast is superb, but I must single out Alan Tudyk (who grew up in Plano, Texas, of all places). Mr Tudyk has an amazing rubber face that's capable of transformations hitherto seen only in animated shorts.
Copyright (c) 2007 Pourover Press