Death at a theater

Death at a Funeral
Starring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, James Marsden, Peter Dinklage, Zoe Saldana
Directed by Neil LaBute

My friends, we gather here tonight to remember the loss of cherished movie comedy, a genre that made us laugh with abandon and produced reddened knees from slapping. Losing cinematic comedy is one of the most difficult things we can go through, and sitting through a dead one is even more sorrowful.

No words can express what I am feeling right now as I reflect on Death at a Funeral. The release of this film is indeed a sad day for all of us. I think sharing our grief would help us ease our burdens and possibly cheer us up.

What can I say about Death at a Funeral? It’s passing into the non-comedic realm was a surprise to anyone who knew the people within it. Such a film populated with side-splitting comedians should have had a long and fruitful life in our humorous memories.

There was Chris Rock, who can have you shooting milk through your nose with his stand-up antics and whose venomous commentary can put you in stitches. But in this film, he is stand-down horizontal. His performance is as wooden and lifeless as the canister of film lying in this coffin behind me.

And who can forget the antics of Martin Lawrence, a comic whose physical humor and facial contortions usually leave people falling down dead in the aisle with laughter. Here, his shtick is so worn-out and subdued that no comedy doctor could find his pulse. I am sure that he would not want to be remembered this way.

The other players in this saga — all of whom have seen better days — are either wildly over-the-top or as lifeless as today’s special at the fish market. We mourn their fate in this vehicle, which is as strained and stretched as a hearse.

I know that film comedies have meant something to each and every one of you. Personally, they uplift me when I am down, comfort me when I am lonely, and leave me breathless with giggles. I remember when I used to go to the multiplex with my friends and there on the screen would be a comedy filled to the brim with pratfalls, rapid-fire jokes, sight gags, and non-stop goofiness. The audience would join in and make everyone feel special and tickled.

But those days are over. Instead of such light-heartedness, we now have comedies that belittle and demean, that are crass and heartless, and that are heavy and maudlin. I know that most of you can excuse an occasional scatological comedic touch — a pratfall involving some nasty biological function. But these days such things are done with over-the-top tastelessness that you fail to laugh so hard that you wet your pants.

Comedies can be hard, and good ones are especially hard working even as they appear to effortlessly get you chortling. This film shows us just how hard that can be — especially from a filmmaker who has a reputation for being misanthropic. He has specialized in dramas where humans are mean and nasty to each other. Comedies where characters are misanthropic and mean and nasty but get their comeuppance can also be hilarious (films like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Raising Arizona, and Ruthless People). But, to be alive and lively, one needs to have a light touch, not one where the humor is flat, the situations are contrived, the timing is off, and the characters seem to be knowingly in on the joke.

I know that Death at a Funeral left a lot of humor undone and funny situations that it never had a chance to start or grow into. The film did not bring tears of laughter to my eyes, more like tears of sadness — sadness of a bygone comedic era where we will never again see the splatter of pie in the face, a slip on a banana peel, or the whack of a rubber chicken. Some may be glad to see that those days are over. But I know many of you are unhappy with this new reality.

Let’s just be thankful that all of you can be spared having to be subjected to Death at a Funeral. And with that, I hope that true comedy will continue to live within our hearts, minds and ribcages. Real comedy will forever be missed, but I know in the right time, we will meet it again. We will all meet our favorite comedies and comics and they will make us laugh until we cry once more.

We are grateful that Doug Young is the film critic for The Colorado Statesman.