Tragedy has struck. Edward (Bob Minor in the Bernie role), the patriarch of a large, well-to-do black family has passed on. Now it’s up to the straitlaced eldest son Aaron (Chris Rock) to somehow pull the family together and make sure the funeral comes off without a hitch.
When you’re dealing with a flaky, pompous younger brother (Martin Lawrence as Ryan), a baby-maddened wife (Regina Hall as Michelle), a cantankerous old uncle (Danny Glover as Russell), and the rest of the far-flung crew of relatives and friends these sorts of affairs draw, it’s easy to be overwhelmed even when things go off without a hitch.
There’s a big hitch. Well, not a big hitch. the hitch is about 4’5″, wearing a black leather jacket with a pocket full of incriminating pictures, and is named Frankie (Peter Dinklage, again).
Death At A Funeral will be familiar to the readers of this website, because most of you are Brits, and undoubtedly you remember 2007’s Death At A Funeral, directed by Frank Oz and written by Dean Craig. Death At A Funeral will look unfamiliar, as the original’s all-white British cast has been Americanized… well, African-Americanized, with most of the roles being taken over by black actors. Craig even got the writing credit for this version’s script, suggesting not much is different (no doubt the cast added some improvisation).
It’s interesting; the film is essentially what could easily be sold as an urban film, but Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Danny Glover, Tracy Morgan, et al have huge white fan bases. The material itself isn’t even urbanized in the manner of, say, a Tyler Perry film. It’s a flick with a mostly-black cast, but it’s essentially colorblind, which is incredibly refreshing. I think it might harm the box office, but it’s nice to see a film where the race of the cast doesn’t matter.
It’s a large, diverse family with sibling rivalries, an old love returning, and all the problems that families generally have. The race of those involved doesn’t make much difference to the material, which is actually pretty funny throughout.
Yes, it relies on some gross-out humor, but it’s part of the overall slapstick tone of the flick. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. It’s not over-the-top so much as it is a natural continuation of all the other stuff that isn’t going right for this poor family that just wants to give Edward a proper send-off.
Neil LaBute is actually a very good director, when he wants to be. Yes, he did The Wicker Man, and maybe that flick is better than I’m giving it credit for, because I’ve never actually sat down and watched the whole thing. The clips on the Internet are pretty hilarious, though. While this film isn’t his best work, it is still a very well-done piece of filmmaking.
LaBute managed to keep the farce flowing, and he juggles a very large and diverse cast with surprising ease. There’s no one character that eats up too much screen time. Death At A Funeral is an ensemble piece, and it plays like one. Everyone gets their moment to shine, from Regina Hall as Aaron’s wife Michelle to Aaron himself, though Aaron is essentially the straight man.
One of the biggest surprises, to me, was James Marsden, of all people. You’d think that in a movie full of decorated comedy actors and actual comedians, the guy best known for wearing a goofy-looking visor and playing fourth fiddle in a superhero movie would show some surprising comedy timing, but as the delightfully doped-up Oscar, Marsden’s expressive face makes him a scene-stealer in his limited time. Thankfully, LaBute doesn’t overuse the gimmick he’s given.
Still, like with a lot of ensemble flicks, the sum isn’t quite as good as the component parts. It’s pretty funny, but the trailer gave away a whole lot of what should have been some seriously funny occurrences.
The cast is game, and the material is pretty good. I just think the marketing department did them a disservice by spoiling a few too many of the best jokes.