With comedies becoming increasingly reliant on gross-out humour, director Frank Oz's very British affair marks a welcome respite from the unoriginal US-teen movies that have been filling our multiplexes of late.
Set amongst 'proper' British mourners, 'Death At A Funeral' is an old-school English farce involving slapstick humour, public nudity, drugs, death and a blackmailing homosexual dwarf. Playing out like a combination of the best bits from English sit-coms it is an obscenely predictable but nonetheless consistently funny work as every possible angle is mined for maximum laughs.
Daniel (MacFadyen) is a responsible, straight laced son juggling grief and a dysfunctional family as he prepares to give his father a deserving send off. Concerned that he will be upstaged by his brother Robert (Grave), a successful novelist, Daniel's day begins as it means to go on once the undertakers arrive. When he looks down at his father's coffin – and it is not his father who lies there – it's clear that today is set to be anything but perfect.
Meanwhile Daniel's cousin Martha (Donovan) is en route with uptight solicitor Simon (Tudyk). Convinced that his future father-in-law (Egan) hates him, Simon is a nervous wreck. In a bid to calm him down, Martha gives him a potent hallucinogenic drug which she mistakes for Valium. Needless to say, the combination of LSD and a stiff-lipped funeral proves perfect fodder for comedy.
Throw in a caustic grieving widow (Asher), a grumpy old codger (Vaughan) and a bumbling foolish best friend (Nyman), and Oz has a recipe for comedy gold before even exploring the 'death' of the film's title. We may get all the usual jokes – the coffin falling over; the swear word in front of the priest, etc – but all are backed so strongly that their lack of originality almost passes unnoticed.
Alan Tudyk in particular is outstanding as the drugged up solicitor turned from mild-mannered English gent to 'out-of-his-mind' idiot as he tries to convince all that the coffin has moved before dancing naked on the roof. Yes, there are one or two gross-out moments that threatens to drag the farce into unpalatable territory but these are pulled back on just enough so as not to spoil the fun, leaving us with an enjoyable romp which, as the tagline goes, succeeds in putting the fun back into funeral.