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Wednesday, November 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 17.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Grave errors
Everything goes wrong in Death at a Funeral
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Just when you think things can't get crazier, they do.
Just when you think things can't get crazier, they do.

Over the years, Frank Oz has successfully turned out bizarre camp (Little Shop of Horrors), classic comedy (What About Bob?) and brilliant satire (Bowfinger). In Death at a Funeral, he tackles British farce. Take one rolling country house; insert one big extended family; add a touch of personal tragedy, a bit of resentment and a generous portion of dysfunction. Stir well. The result is a comedy that's refreshing in its courage to just have fun.

The film spans the course of a single afternoon, during a funeral where everything that can go wrong, does. Matthew Macfadyen plays Daniel, the neurotic son who stayed home, attending to his aging parents while his successful novelist brother (Rupert Graves) went off to New York. Daniel's pent-up frustration grows as he learns his brother won't be ponying up his half of the funeral costs.

But that's just the beginning. As each guest arrives, troubles mount. Daniel's resentful mother (Jane Asher) continues to drop not-so-subtle jabs at Daniel's wife (Keeley Hawes). Howard (Andy Nyman) must tend to the ultimate in grumpy old men, Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan), while indulging his growing hypochondria. Troy (Kris Marshall) merely sees the funeral as a pit stop on the way to sell his latest pharmaceutical concoction. Then there's Peter (Peter Dinklage), the mysterious guest who turns out to be closer to the deceased than anyone would have guessed.

It's comedy in the good old-fashioned sense: pure farce served straight up. Smartly conceived and executed, the jokes arrive with some cheap shots, but Oz takes everything one step further. And just when you think things can't quite get any crazier, they do.

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