AWFJ Women On Film – “Death at a Funeral” – Review by Susan Granger

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There’s a universality and timelessness to losing a loved one and the ritual of grief, which is why the idea of transferring the concept of this droll British comedy of manners into an African-American family situation must seemed so appealing.

As a dutiful son, Aaron (Chris Rock) has organized his father’s funeral in Southern California with no help from his successful novelist older brother, Ryan (Martin Lawrence), the prodigal son who flies in from New York to attend the services, making it clear that he has no intention of sharing expenses. Their alienation and the delivery of the wrong corpse is eclipsed when a blackmailing stranger, Frank (diminutive Peter Dinklage, who played the same role in the original), reveals that he was the secret gay lover of the deceased and threatens to show the weeping widow, Cynthia (Loretta Devine), tawdry compromising photos unless the family pays him $300,000. In the meantime, Cousin Elaine (Zoe Saldana) is dodging an infatuated ex (Luke Wilson) while coping with the antics of her fiancé Oscar (James Marsden) who has unwittingly ingested acid and is perched, naked, on the roof in the midst of a full-scale hallucinogenic trip.

Within the ensemble, James Marsden is most memorable, garnering the most laughs. Chris Rock fails to elicit sympathy for beleaguered straight-man Aaron, while Martin Lawrence repeats a familiarly suave, insensitive characterization. And Danny Glover casts a pall as a foul-mouthed Uncle Russell who suffers from a gross gastric disorder.

Credited to the same screenwriter, Dean Craig, it’s directed by misanthropic Neil LaBute, whose “In the Company of Men” and “Your Friends & Neighbors” had a misogynistic edge of sophistication that’s missing here. Instead, the hollow humor, such as it is, is coarsely sexual, crudely scatological slapstick. In addition, the strained heavy-handedness with which the homosexual angle is handled seems smarmy. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Death at a Funeral” is a frantic 5. Do yourself a favor: rent the same-titled 2007 farce directed by the late Frank Oz and you’ll see the difference.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.