British movies are usually a roll of the dice for us Americans who often seem more uptight than our English comrades. You never know if the films will have a dull, obscure plot or be hilariously funny like “The Full Monty.” Although it sounds like another dreadful movie taking advantage of a grave moment in life, “Death at a Funeral” is one surprising laugh after another.
Sandra (Jane Asher) is about to face one of the worst days of her life: her husband’s funeral. As the car carrying the casket arrives at their remote English country-side home, her son Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) is ready to face the music. The casket is brought inside, the top is opened for him to take a look, and he utters, “Who is this man?”
That’s when the laughs begin. The casket is whizzed out and on its way to be exchanged as the guests begin to arrive. Daniel has much more to be anxiety-ridden about. His brother Robert (Rupert Graves), a successful but narcissistic novelist arriving from New York, has spent more of his time and money on himself instead of helping out their parents, as Daniel has done.
Daniel’s wife, Jane (Keely Hawes), is nagging him to get half of the funeral costs from Robert as promised. Tired of living with in-laws, she wants that money to put down on their own flat.
The reunion between Robert and Daniel is not a joyous one when Robert reveals he has no money. There’s no time to get into that as the new casket arrives; and yes, it is dear old dad. Meanwhile there’s a brouhaha going on outside as guests fight for the few remaining parking spots. Howard (Andy Nyman) and Justin (Ewen Bremner), Daniel’s friends, have arrived with Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan). With the limited parking space, Howard must push the wheelchair- bound Alfie up-hill while Alfie hits him with his cane to hurry him.
That doesn’t top when Daniel’s cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) arrives with her fiance Simon (Alan Tudyk) and brother Troy (Kris Marshall). To relieve Simon’s headache while her brother finished getting dressed, she took what she thought was a valium from a bottle, only to discover after Simon’s nude, erratic intrusion during the funeral that is was a hallucinogenic drug in the bottle.
As Daniel tries to handle all of these diversions, he’s perplexed by a dwarf guest no one seems to know. When Peter (Peter Dinklage) finally gets Daniel alone and unfolds a shocking story complete with photos and demands money “or else,” the movie veers into carnival-house laughs, each incident topping the one before.
Frank Oz, (“In and Out” and “What About Bob” ), also an actor who has voiced many of Jim Hensen’s Muppets - Miss Piggy/Fozzie Bear/Animal/Sam the Eagle/Gramps/Swedish Chef - certainly has a knack for bringing out the comedy in any situation.
“Death at a Funeral” can be called depraved, politically incorrect and dysfunctional. Yet, thanks to the finely-honed timing, hilarious one-liners, quirky characters played well by their cast members and the non-stop laughs, I call it enormously