Death At A Funeral: An Unnecessary Remake

Death At A Funeral: An Unnecessary Remake

In 2007, the funniest film Americans didn't see was Frank Oz's amazing British farce Death At A Funeral. While it can hardly be called a flop (some $46 million in worldwide revenues), the movie only took in just north of $8 million total in the United States. Given that it was condemned to a late summer purgatory on mostly independent screens across the country, it's no surprise that it didn't do very well in America. The sad part is that there was no reason why it had to be that way. Films from the UK hardly qualify as actual foreign cinema, the biggest hurtle of which has always been subtitles. Death At A Funeral is a frequently goofy comedy that would stand up well against sublime slapstick like the best of the Farrely Brothers. While I wish that more Americans had given it a chance, I don't think that Chris Rock's upcoming remake is the way to shed light on this hilarious film.

Let's talk about what makes the original Death At A Funeral work. First and foremost, it plays to that uniquely British sense of upended propriety. The comedy of manners has been a hallmark of English storytelling for centuries, a lot of the laughs coming from pointing out the absurdities of polite society and actively assaulting the anxieties of a put-upon protagonist. Countless times this model has been misappropriated and ultimately ruined by those who just can't grasp the significant cultural differences between American and British society, at least as they exist in fiction.

Consider the embarrassing attempt to bring the English sitcom Coupling to the States without any real change in the script or setting. Steve Moffat's routinely excellent writing all of sudden sounded flat and hackneyed when placed in an American context. A similar thing happened in the first season of the US version of The Office. Though we share a language, American and British culture are different enough that the same jokes don't always work for both. A comedy about a painfully dignified man caught in the middle of the most undignified funeral possible is solid gold for UK humor and a recipe for tone-deafness in the States.

Chris Rock's solution to this glaring cultural divide is to apply it to one of the most dire genres of film to ever come out of America. It baffles me that in 2010 our society is still entertaining the concept of racially segregated cinema. It has been decades since "black comedy" has produced anything as excellent as Coming To America. These days that genre is the territory of Tyler Perry, a man whose films share space at the bottom of the cinematic barrel with the likes of Uwe Boll and the Friedberg/Seltzer parodies.

The cast of Rock's Death At A Funeral has no chance of standing up to the excellent ensemble of the original. For one, Chris Rock is too much of a clown to fill Matthew MacFadyen's shoes as a straightman and I could think of a number of other actors better fit to play the uncaring, successful brother than Martin Lawrence. And as much as I respect the range of James Marsden, he's no replacement for Alan Tudyk.

The best the 2010 remake of Death At A Funeral will do is inspire people to go watch Frank Oz's powerfully funny original. If you need any more convincing, go watch the official trailer and decide if it's worthwhile to spend ten dollars and two hours listening to stupid sex jokes and watching Danny Glover sit on the toilet.