Death at a Funeral

Frank Oz’s Death at a Funeral can teach a thing or two about humor to the plot-less, one-man, one-joke efforts that pass for comedy today. With its ensemble cast of delightfully odd characters and quirky subplots, it defies a one line summary. Suffice to say that there are dead bodies, hallucinogens, nutty uncles, insecure lovers, and oh yes, one little person.

Thanks to our ever shortening attention spans the most successful forms of humor today are ones that are episodic – short bursts of wit strung together with a piece of floss. Borat, Apatow, Kolbert and youtube are the current kings of comedy. However, it is worth while to remember that sometimes keeping track of a plot and a large cast of characters can yield rich dividends.

Death at a Funeral is not the funniest movie or even the best British comedy out there. What it is is ambitious. One can’t help but cheer that effort given the current draw. Once the pieces are set up, the gags that follow are endearing, possibly because you do see them coming. But just when you think you’re all settled into a typical Brit ensemble piece, writer Dean Craig yanks you into something you don’t expect from a sweet little story like this, and then quietly takes you back to where you were a few minutes ago. It is amazing how expressive American actors seem to get after they cross the ocean – drugged-to-the-gills Alan Tudyk and Peter Dinklage draw more laughs per minute than those stoners from Knocked Up do over the entire movie.

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