It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
When I was an altar boy, assisting at Requiem High Mass and planning how to spend my 50-cent tip at the day-old pastry shop, funerals were sad affairs, with weeping and collapses and all that Latin. The only speaker was the priest, whose sermon reassured us that the Heavenly Father was reserving a space even now in the name of the Faithful Departed.
These days a lot of funerals have become vaudevillian, with readings, fond stories, laughter, favorite golden oldies and everybody smiling about dear old dad, or whoever. If they don't send us off gently into that good night, neither do they rage, rage against the dying of the light (copyright Dylan Thomas, who raged plenty).
Frank Oz's "Death at a Funeral" finds its comedy in the peculiar human trait of being most tempted to laugh when we're absolutely not supposed to. Not that all of his characters are very amused. His story begins with the delivery of a casket to the British home of the mourning widow (Jane Asher), who lives with her son Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) and his wife Jane (Keeley Hawes), who hates living there so much she can hardly bear to remain even under the mournful circumstances. Not long after, a second casket is delivered, and we're off, and luckily we're all that's off.
Oz, working from a screenplay by Dean Craig, populates the funeral party with disasters waiting to happen. One of them involves Daniel's eulogy, which we see him rehearsing from 3-by-5 cards, which are a useful precaution if you forget your dad's name (priests always have a helpful memo tucked away in their breviary). Daniel is a pre-failed novelist, which means he has not yet finished a novel in order to have it rejected. His despised brother Robert (Rupert Graves) is a famed novelist living in Manhattan and is flying in just to make Daniel feel doubly miserable.