Remake gives Death new life
Fewer than three years after the little-seen British dark comedy Death at a Funeral was lauded for its eccentric ensemble cast, the American version â which opened in theaters Friday â attempts to recapture some of its appeal.
The farce centers on a death that brings together a plethora of zany relatives and extended family members who would have otherwise not associated with one another. Though classified as a remake, the American version clearly distinguishes itself from its British counterpart.
In fact, actors Chris Rock, who plays an unpublished, aspiring writer and son of the deceased, and Tracy Morgan, who plays a semi-obnoxious family friend, did not even watch the original to prepare for their roles.
âWe wanted to add our own flavor to it,â Morgan said. âI wanted to complement the role that I saw [in the script].â
Without the influence of its namesake predecessor, the new Death at a Funeral was able to craft American-themed humor around the moviesâ similar story structure. Whereas the British version caters toward more subdued British tastes and sentiments, the recent remake is a more brash and outlandish comedy aimed to appeal to all Americans, despite the largely black cast.
âThe British are very mannered, very polite about this,â Rock said. âThis is an American audience movie. This is not soul play. Me and Tracy are two guys that have worked for mass audiences for more than a decade.â
Despite the distinctly American flavor, the structure of the story is very similar to the original with scenes that closely resemble its British counterpart.
In one of the earlier scenes, Elaine and Oscar, an interracial couple played by Zoe Saldana and James Marsden, express their anxiety at the thought of another encounter with Elaineâs disapproving father. To calm him down, Elaine gives Oscar a pill from a bottle labeled âvalium,â which the audience knows has been replaced with a hallucinogenic pill. Just as in the original, what unfolds from that particular plot line is a running joke filled with dramatic irony.
Both versions also cast Peter Dinklage, a dwarf who plays Frank, the deceasedâs secret gay lover. Like the character in the British film, Frank attempts to blackmail the bereaved brothers Aaron (Rock) and Ryan (Martin Lawrence) with photographs that proves their father was a homosexual.
The funeral is the filmâs âMacGuffin,â a term coined by filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock to describe an essentially pointless plot device that motivates the charactersâ actions. As family secrets unravel, it is clear that any similarly unifying event could have instigated the movieâs hilarious situations. And several times throughout the film, the various characters seem to acknowledge this as they are reeled back in and reminded to respect the memory of Aaron and Ryanâs father.
These times ease the tension and conflict of the story and become rare moments for the family to bond, not argue.
At its core, Death at a Funeral is a lighthearted look into family misunderstandings, but the filmâs title tells more about its moral than its plot devices. In addition to being about the death of the protagonistsâ father, the movie is also about the death of intolerance within family relationships. Throughout the film, for example, Aaron and Ryan cannot stand each other. Yet, in the end, they accept each other for who they are.
âThe movie is about acceptance,â Rock said. âThis guyâs dad was gay, but he loves him to death. It is not even a âbut.â Itâs just âI love him to death.â With family, itâs no matter what.â