There’s one thing a great comedian knows how to differentiate between: building anticipation and giving away a punch line. Unfortunately Frank Oz’s “Death at a Funeral” gives us little to anticipate except the things we expect, exactly when we expect them, and then, still thinking the punchline he gave away too early is funny, thinks we need to hear it over and over again. The problem that’s even bigger than that is the fact that the screenwriter Dean Craig gives away all the punchlines in the first 10 minutes of the film, and it’s the audiences duty to sit through while nothing new is discovered about any of the characters, only that there is nothing to be discovered. Everything turns out as planned, even the things that aren’t supposed to turn out as planned. I always find it difficult to enjoy a movie that I’m two steps ahead of. And the worst part is that the filmmakers think they’re being cute, or at least the score directs us to think that. I hate dark comedies that think they’re being cute. Or dark comedies that think they’re being outrageous. Oh, look, and old British man swearing and pooping! Ins’t that outrageous!
The opening moment of the film is the only genuine laugh, and it’s a small one to be certain. After that we’re greeted with those 10 minutes of punchlines disguised as exposition (isn’t it usually the other way around?) And the characters don’t stop there! First we easily guess what’s about to happen, then it happens, then we get to hear each character tell another character about it while sometimes it’s still happening, and sometimes we’re even treated to the retelling of events as they are happening more than once. But, wait, wait, that’s not it…oh, wait, actually it is. That is it! What a crappy movie.
The patriarch has died, but holds close to him a secret that’s revealed and causes one problem after another, adding of course to the problems that are already there. Most of these problems are contrived to create humorous hi-jinx, others to give us something serious to look forward to in the end – a way to tie things up. But we already know exactly what’s going to be tied up and how. As stated before the banter between characters is just seeing them react in the same way to the same information. Sometimes they cut away from a scene, making you think that they won’t repeat what’s going on, but you’ll be surprised when they cut back 5 minutes later, and they’re just starting to tell the other person.
It’s too bad, because there’s some good comedy talent in the film, and I like Frank Oz. It’s sad when the only people in the theatre are the actors in the film laughing at themselves during the final credit scroll. Hopefully this movie will disappear quickly.