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Featured Blu-ray review: Death at a Funeral

June 23rd, 2011

Death at a Funeral - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

In 2007, Death at a Funeral was released in its native U.K. and was a solid hit there. Over here, it only managed a limited release, but did well all things considered. (Coincidentally, the remake made an almost identical amount worldwide, but had a nearly completely opposite domestic / international breakdown.) So few saw the film in theaters, or on the home market, that the Blu-ray might be an introduction to most. Is the film worth discovering? And if so, it is worth picking up or merely renting?

The Movie

The film takes place over one afternoon at the funeral for Edward, the patriarch of a dysfunctional family. Over the course of the day, numerous plots threads involve the dozen main characters.

Yeah, that's about all I can say without getting into spoilers. I'll try and get into some of the plot threads without revealing too much, but that could be difficult. The main character we follow is Daniel, the son of the deceased. He and his wife, Jane, live in his parents home, although she wants to move out as soon as possible. This is partially because she wants to be alone with her husband, and partially because her mother-in-law, Sandra, is unbearable. The funeral gets off to a rough starts, the funeral home brings the wrong casket, Daniel quickly gets frazzled and more and more things go wrong. He tries to get some help from his brother, Robert, who is a famous writer living in New York City, but his brother is a self-centered prick. He refuses to help with the expense of the funeral, because his first class ticket was so expensive.

He's not the only one having trouble at the funeral. Martha, his cousin, is there with Simon, her fiancee. She's there not only to pay her last respects to Edward, but to get the blessing of her father, Victor, for her upcoming wedding. Simon's rather nervous about this, so to calm his nerves while they wait for her brother, Troy, to get ready, she gives him one of Troy's Valiums. However, Troy is a pharmacology student and that wasn't a Valium, but a designer hallucinogen. Meanwhile, Martha has to deal with the unwelcome advances of Justin, a friend of a friend of Daniel, with whom she once had a one-night affair. He's interested in continuing this relationship. She is not.

Then there's Peter, a mysterious stranger who arrives at the funeral and no one quite knows who he is. So who is he? He's a major spoiler, which I won't get into here.

So is this film worth checking out? That depends. The humor is quite British, which may or may not be a selling point. It's dark (it does take place at a funeral, so being dark shouldn't surprise anyone) and black comedies are notoriously hard to sell to audiences, because they are a niche market film. For those who do like the genre, it's a fun trip. The film manages to balance the dry humor and the absurd humor extremely well, which is not an easy task. Also, the situations, as absurd as they are, are grounded in reality enough that the movie is compelling. Even at it's craziest, the characters act like one would expect them to, given the situation. There are even some solid emotional scenes that are quite moving.

On the other hand, there were a few plot threads that were less compelling (Howard's hypochondria, for instance) as well as a few jokes that missed their mark (potty humor). However, those are minor complaints compared to the overall quality of the film. The writing is fantastic, the dialogue is witty, and the acting is amazing. ... Although occasionally Simon's accent sounded like Wash from Firefly was pretending to be British rather than someone who was actually born in Britain. But maybe that's just me.

The Extras

There are not a lot of extras, plus they are all ported over from the previous DVD release. The first extra is an audio commentary track is with Frank Oz, the director. As a solo track, it's not incredibly energetic, but it's informative and intriguing and you don't have to worry about dead air. There is also a second audio commentary, this time with the screenwriter, Dean Craig, and two of the actors, Alan Tudyk and Andy Nyman. It's closer to the entertainment end of the spectrum and the three have good chemistry together, but there's also a lot of information passed along. Fans of the movie will want to listen to both tracks. The final extra is an eight-minute gag reel, which is mostly the cast trying not to laugh during takes. That's not a lot of extras, but there's good replay value here.

The film's technical presentation on Blu-ray is good, but not great. Then again, the film had a relatively modest budget, so this is to be expected. The detail level is strong, colors are a little less vibrant than I would like, while the blacks are not quite as deep as one could hope for. On the other hand, it is better than the DVD and there are no compression artifacts or technical glitches to get in the way. The dialogue is clear, which is important for a dialogue-driven comedy, but there's not a lot of pizazz with the audio track. The surround sound speakers are underused, there bass is ignored, and don't expected any amazing dynamic effects.

Finally, the price on is $19, which is a bit much for this type of release.

The Movie

Death at a Funeral is an excellent movie, the Blu-ray has solid extras and technical specs, while the price is a little high. I still think it is worth picking up, but I can't be overly enthusiastic with that recommendation.

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