It takes a death to bring some families together. It took a funeral to rip this one apart.
Beloved father, husband and uncle Edward Barnes has died. He wanted his memorial service to be held at home, so his eldest son, Aaron; his daughter-in-law, Michelle; and his widow, Cynthia, make that happen.
It just doesn’t happen easily. In fact, almost everything that could go wrong does.
The wrong corpse is delivered. Once the right body arrives, Cousin Elaine’s current boyfriend, Oscar, unknowingly takes a hallucinogenic drug and decides to “free” it from its confines. Despite her grief, Cynthia continues to nag Aaron and Michelle to have a baby. And Aaron’s rivalry with his successful novelist brother, Ryan, cranks back up into high gear. Cantankerous Uncle Russell, meanwhile, isn’t in a bad mood—that’s just his normal personality.
But as crazy as all that is—and believe me, some of it’s impossibly madcap—most awkward is the fact that Edward’s clandestine gay lover, Frank, shows up demanding blackmail money. Without it, he’ll show Cynthia photos of some very compromising positions.
At first Ryan and Aaron consider paying Frank off, but they opt for binding and gagging him instead. This bad decision leads to several others, naturally. And though no one but Edward ends up dead, based on the cast’s bungled efforts to conceal secrets and clean up messes, it’s remarkable that no coroners or cops, Keystone or otherwise, appear in Death at a Funeral.
Cautious, uptight Aaron and seat-of-his-pants Ryan eventually come to appreciate each other’s strengths and reconcile their differences. Elaine recognizes that Oscar, unlike her former boyfriend, Derek, truly loves her and is gentle and kind.
Despite his secret life, Edward is said to have worked hard for his family and been a loving father and husband. Aaron, who has agonized over giving the eulogy, does so well and with respect. Family friend Norman says he wants his life to be celebrated at his own funeral someday. And behind all the posturing and acrimony, the Barnes family members truly do seem to care about one another and are ready to help when there’s a real need.
Edward is said to be “in a better place.” The reverend quotes 1 Samuel 18:4. And in order to stall the preacher, Norman asks for an impromptu time of confession, even though neither of them is Catholic. Oscar sings part of “Amazing Grace.” A man prays to Jesus.
Ovulation turns into a plot point. As does Michelle’s lack of undergarments and Martina’s skin-tight, super-short dress. Statutory rape is joked about, as is oral sex. Derek assumes a rash Norman mentions is a venereal disease. Condom use is referenced. Jokes are made about the size of male and female genitalia. Two clothed men are placed in a sexual position. A man expresses his addiction to strip clubs. Elaine announces that she’s pregnant with Oscar’s baby.
Michelle is briefly seen in her bra and panties. And other women also reveal lots of cleavage and leg. The reverend says he shouldn’t read Ryan’s smutty books but loves them anyway. Ryan, who is 40-plus, continually hits on Martina, who is 18. Elaine says she was once so drunk she didn’t even realize she and Derek were having sex.
Nude statues depicting men wrestling and grabbing genitalia adorn Edward’s office. A painting shows nude women’s backsides. Photos reveal Edward and Frank in drag and with a man who is wearing sadomasochistic gear.
Out of his mind, Oscar strips naked and sits on a roof in full view of the mourners standing on the lawn below. (We’re shown his back, chest and close-ups of his buttocks.) Elaine’s brother, Jeff, reaches through a window to help Oscar get down—for the express purpose of letting the camera see his face getting pressed into Oscar’s groin. Uncle Russell also strips (out of frame) and heads for the roof, too, where we see his chest and legs. We also see his bare thighs and boxer shorts as he sits on a toilet.
Slapstick-style, Cynthia knocks Michelle off a chair in her zeal to greet Ryan when he arrives. A coffin falls over after a scuffle. The body plops onto the floor. Oscar threatens to blow Elaine’s head off—with a hairdryer, but in his addled mind it’s a weapon.
Ryan tackles Frank and he and Aaron tie him up. Frank falls and hits his head on a heavy glass table. Aaron knees Ryan in the groin. Several faces get slapped or slugged and men wrestle each other to the ground. Cynthia pummels Frank. Oscar slips on the roof and dangles from a gable. Jeff plays a shoot-’em-up video game.
More than 100 total f- and s-words. Two or three obscene gestures. One very demeaning slang expression for female anatomy. God’s name is abused at least 15 times, often paired with “d‑‑n.” Jesus’ name is misused four or five times, usually with “Christ.” Milder profanities include “a‑‑,” “a‑‑hole” “b‑‑ch,” “b‑‑tard,” “p‑‑‑” and “h‑‑‑.”
Jeff, a pharmacology student, prepares illegal “prescriptions” and presumably sells them to friends. Several people indiscriminately take what they believe is Valium. Meth, acid and mescaline are mentioned, if not inadvertently ingested. Derek smokes a cigarillo. Drunkenness is referred to several times.
Racial jokes pop up. And Edward’s gay lover turns out to be a (white) little person. So that opens up another avenue for dishing undue offense, too.
Uncle Russell is plagued by diarrhea. And in a comedy such as this, that means only one thing: gross-out gags. In a bathroom scene, fecal matter is sprayed or smeared over clothing, a mirror, and a man’s hand and face.
Rather than calling an ambulance to help Frank when he’s knocked unconscious, Jeff simply assumes he’s dead and doesn’t get help. No one does, in fact. It’s easier for them to throw him behind a couch. Later they try to secretly bury the not-quite-dead-yet Frank with Edward.
Ryan plays up “grieving” in order to do all the negative and/or disrespectful things he wants to. Grumpy Uncle Russell tells Derek to take control of women because that’s what they want. So Derek grabs Elaine and forces her to kiss him. Oscar salutes when Adolph Hitler is mentioned.
A resurrection of the 2007 British movie of the same name, Death at a Funeral is one of actor/producer Chris Rock’s latest and seemingly favorite projects. In an interview with CanMag he said of this ensemble film, “I think we made an American family comedy. Despite the R [rating], I think this is a movie you can see with your whole family. This is a movie for absolutely everybody. That’s what I think.”
OK. Let’s take Mr. Rock at his word for a moment. That would mean this film would be a perfect way to teach kids these six awesome lessons:
1) Using hallucinogenic drugs is fine—and even a pharmacology student say so! Besides this, it’s no problem to share prescription medication that’s not yours, even if you find it on the ground. And if taking one pill is good, taking four or five is better!
2) Knocking folks out and tying them up can get you out of pretty much any kind of jam. And if the guy has it coming to him anyway, well, so much the better.
3) If you think somebody is dead, the best thing to do is hide the body behind a couch. That’ll solve your problems and prevent legal interference. Your family will be none the wiser.
4) It’s cool to use foul language. The f-word is particularly first-rate.
5) Joking about poop—and watching someone defecate on somebody else’s hand—is good clean fun.
6) If you get naked and crawl out on a roof, you can make people laugh, just like Oscar does.
Should I go on? I didn’t think so. Chris, if my family had watched Death at a Funeral together when I was a child, it would have been only because my parents were tied up and unconscious, just like Frank.