Monday 14 June 2010

Review: Death at a Funeral

Year: 2010
Director: Neil LaBute
Screenplay: Dean Craig
Starring: Chris Rock, Keith David, Loretta Devine, Peter Dinklage, Ron Glass, Danny Glover, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Luke Wilson, Columbus Short.

The plot is here

The fact I watched this film almost a week ago and have not been that bothered to finish the review until now (17/06/10) says quite a bit about how I feel about this film.

I have a friend who worked on the original version of the film. However, I unfortunately missed the blink and you'll miss it release of Frank Oz's 2007 Brit flick (Sorry Lisa!). The idea of it seemed very Ealing to me and the trailer didn't look too bad. Skip ahead 3 years and Hollywood have decided to remake the film. I was surprised because the original film isn't foreign (i.e non English language) and we all know how Da Wood LOVES playing around with subtitles (and other cultures).

Interestingly...this "dumbed" down version of DAAF is quite progressive. It's Obama's U.S people and LeBute's film is one where, despite having a mostly Afro-American cast with some medium profile white actors in-between, Race really isn't a big thing. LeBute's last film; Lakeview Terrace involved an angry black cop (Samuel L Jackson) very narked off at an interracial couple participating in some "jungle fever". In Death at a Funeral, the film is almost completely disinterested in race politics. While the scripts "changes" involved altering lines so that Tracy Morgan could yell "DAMN!" once or twice, it's also very refreshing to see a film in which Duncan (Glass) doesn't want his daughter Elaine (Salanda) dating a white man Oscar (Marsden), because of nothing else other than he just doesn't like him. It's a far cry from Jackson's cop character as Duncan wishes to match Elaine up with the slacker-type Derek (Wilson). It's one of the more poorly handled relationships in the film but it's still one step forward in the grand scheme of things.

But that's one of the problems I had with Death at a Funeral, I just didn't care in any real way. There's under-baked conflict between brothers (Rock and Lawrence are quite subdued), one note performances from experienced actors (Keith David and Danny Glover) and an unbalanced feel in tone and pacing that makes the the second half of the movie feel flat to me. At times the movie is funny. There's a nice line here and there and some of the physical comedy works well, with Masdern's doped up goofball garnering a few chortles. But why should we give a damn? None of these people garner any empathy or sympathy from this situation, and the film isn't really sure if it's a dark comedy or farce.

It made realize that love them or hate them, you know where you stand with characters in a Judd Apatow film. Even Funny People with it's mammoth length and dramatic second half switch, manages to draw more from it's players, despite it's lead being an absolute ass.

Death at a Funeral didn't give me what I want because I'm not sure what it wanted to give. At one point a plot moment comes out of nowhere to try and boost a response out of the audience...but it's not deserved and feels false. After the scatological jokes, and attempts at gallows humor a announcement is made to make us try and remember that these people aren't all bad. At least Observe and Report kept it's monsters as monsters. It travelled down the rabbit hole and didn't care how dirty it got. Death at a funeral hasn't got that drive and instead of being deliriously funny, ends up being DOA.