- Frank Oz
- Matthew MacFadyen, Daisy Donovan, Peter Dinklage, Alan Tudyk, Rupert Graves
- 90 min.
- Release Date
Frank Oz’s career spans from voicing the virtually identical Yoda and Grover, to directing a number of excellent puppet-centric movies (Little Shop of Horrors, The Dark Crystal). He was walked-over by his cast on the set of The Score, where he attempted to direct three heavyweights of acting: Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and Edward Norton. In 2004, Oz failed, miserably, when making a heavily commercialized adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel The Stepford Wives. And his scattered filmography has not been favorable (see HouseSitter). Despite his failures, he’ll always have Fozzy Bear.
With his new movie Death at a Funeral, Oz claims in interviews that he was working without the behind-the-scenes complications he suffered on his last few problem productions. Regardless, this movie suffers from a terrible disease, one plaguing modern comedies, that Oz conceivably had no control over. You’ve seen it spread over the years, and still Hollywood can find no cure. It is called “prerelease overexposure”, and it often derives from advertising. This British comedy features dark humor surrounding the funeral of a family’s esteemed father. Sons Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) and Robert (Rupert Graves) bicker over who’s paying for the event. Daniel, an innocent-faced, balding Brit version of John Cusack, lives in the shadow of his famous novelist brother. Being a novelist, Robert was expected to give the eulogy; guests turn inexplicably rude when they find Daniel plans to give it.
Cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) has enough to worry about with her father’s dislike for her boyfriend Simon (Alan Tudyk), which is made worse when Simon accidentally takes a powerful hallucinogenic drug believing it to be Valium. Tudyk finds a place somewhere between slapstick and Cheech & Chong to inspire his silly psychedelic experience. His prolonged high wears thin on us when other funeral guests “mistakenly” swallow the pills. It’s a gag that should have lasted five minutes but was drawn out for an hour. And of course there’s Peter Dinklage’s character, a mysterious figure at the funeral whom Daniel just can’t figure out. Who is he? How does he know their dad? The answer could have been a hilarious shock, followed by a couple well-timed gags.
Just as with this summer’s Balls of Fury or I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, “prerelease overexposure” occurred from repeated exposure to the film’s trailer. Universal Pictures began advertising Chuck and Larry back around March, and it was released in July—that’s five months of the same movie trailer over and over and over. I’m not sure what subconscious effect such repetition has on a viewer. I imagine it’s like being stranded on a desert island with only one other person; eventually, after being there for a few years, you begin to despise the way he or she walks and talks. Before you know it, being stranded on the island all alone sounds pretty good.
Movie trailers can spread infection from a single, deadly dose to the audience, which is what happened to me with Death at a Funeral. The movie’s trailer is an Ebola of comedy: you see it once and you’re dead, since the funniest moments are spoiled. For those of you who haven’t seen the film’s trailer, I’ll continue with my disease metaphor and offer some advice: “avoid this trailer like The Plague”. There’s always the possibility you might like Death at a Funeral for a hearty chuckle. However, the film’s humor relies on shocks; with the best jokes are divulged in the trailer, audiences must take steps to avoid any promotional material on this film, otherwise it’s spoiled.
It doesn’t say much for the quality of a film when its rewatchability is nil. No matter how hard jokes make me laugh the first time, I can test their worth via repeated viewings. If you haven’t seen the trailer, see this film. You’re likely to have a laugh at the farcical zaniness of it all. Though even if you do enjoy it, I can’t imagine you’d enjoy it again. Movies like Rushmore, Hot Fuzz, and State and Main always make me laugh, despite having seen them all dozens of times; movies like Death at a Funeral are painfully unfunny after their first screening, because their jokes rely on temporary devices like poop and drugs.