Remaking a comedy from another country is a difficult task – how much of the humor comes from cultural mores and references? How do you decide what to change and what to leave intact? And how do you do it if the film in question is only three years old? These are the challenges facing maverick director Neil LaBute with his remake of the incredibly popular British screwball comedy Death At A Funeral and, amazingly, he pulls it off.
The basic premise of Death At A Funeral is simple – a family patriarch kicks the bucket and his far-flung kin come home for the funeral. But, of course, family is the one thing you can’t pick, and it’s not long before sparks fly. The film is a collection of set pieces, each one working to out-laugh the other, and they’re unfailingly hilarious. One of the primary problems with screwball comedies like this one is the cast’s tendency to over-commit to jokes. With Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan on board, you’d be safe in assuming the same thing would happen here, but amazingly LaBute keeps everybody reined in. Some of the funniest performances come from actors not normally associated with comedy, including Danny Glover as a demented aunt and James Marsden as a new fiance being introduced to the family while tripping balls.
There’s a few moments in Death At A Funeral that are so hilarious you’ll be talking about them as you walk out of the theater, but the real triumph of the movie is LaBute’s knack for comic timing. His previous movies have primarily been small-cast tales of human cruelty, so to see him manage this many actors and have it work like a well-oiled machine is surprising. I’m surprised but pleased to be able to recommend it.