If you like English comedy, like Monty Python, you will probably love this film. Unlike Four Weddings and a Funeral, a light romantic comedy, this film is dark and crude.
It is set at a funeral in an English country home. Filled with a cast of mostly lesser known English actors (at least this side of the pond), it is a riot. (As English solicitor Simon, it does include Alan Tudyk, the Texan who looks familiar because he has been in a number of good movies, including the recent 3:10 to Yuma.) The first scene, even before the opening title credits, where the responsible son, Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen), looks into the coffin was so hilarious it had my wife crying tears of laughter!
Death at a Funeral is filled with eccentric British characters, from a straight-backed older father, to a drug-dealing pharmacy-student son, from a pain-in-the-ass "favorite" uncle, to a clock-driven reverend. Throw in a famous, expat novelist brother, Robert (Rupert Graves), now living in New York and you have a terrific comedy full of surprises.
Some of the comedy comes from the presence and use of drugs. Some comes from a dark secret that is surprisingly shared quietly at the funeral. Some comes from simply family dynamics. A running joke throughout is that the brother coordinating the funeral is going to deliver the eulogy, though the other brother is the novelist.
A classic line I enjoyed: "A cup of tea is good for many things, but it won't bring back the dead." That is so English -- tea is the opium of the masses for the Brits. When I was in Asia for a week recently, I had no (count that, zero) cups of English tea. I came home with withdrawal pangs!
Despite being filled with course language, this superficial comedy had a couple of lessons we can ponder. First, the movie has a recurring theme of acceptance. This becomes clearer as the movie develops, and culminates in the final (third attempt) eulogy from Daniel, the son. We can judge, we can be judged. But we really want to be accepted. And as we judge others, so will we be judged (Matt. 7:2). The call for the funeral-goers as it is to us is to refuse to judge others.
The second lesson comes also from this final eulogy. As Daniel speaks on being a son, he says "We all need to grow up." Our parents can do only so much, but it is our responsibility to accept our adult responsibilities. There are areas in all our lives where we still hang on to the childish ways. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:11, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." And as a parent, it reminds me that I am not totally accountable for how my children turn out. It is my job to do my best to raise them; it is theirs to grow in adulthood as responsible adults.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs.