Monday, November 19, 2007


On Friday night I saw 'Death at a Funeral', which I was informed was the funniest movie to come out this year. Obviously my informants have spent the last year locked in a box with nothing to watch but old episodes of the Nightly Business News from 1996.

Honestly, I've laughed more at real funerals.

Well, maybe it isn't fair to dismiss this film with seven trite words. It was dull and inane, but the rest of audience seemed to like it, probably because they were all a good thirty years older than the average cinema audience, getting into that time of life when one laughs at jokes because they're familiar, not because they're funny.

It was the presence of such extraordinarily tired jokes that set me thinking. The sets were unimaginative and the acting lacked sparkle, but the really disturbing thing about this movie was the script. The script had all the hallmarks of a forty year old stage play that's been updated for the 21st century cinema... and not very dramatically updated either. However, according to, the script was written by Dean Craig, who wasn't even born until 1974. Did someone who is only thirty three really write this script?

Frankly, I'm calling shenannigans... and here's the evidence.

For a start, the action takes place almost entirely in a couple of rooms of a single house. This is a classic sign that betrays the heritage of stage plays adapted for the screen.

Secondly, there's the straight-laced, uptight character who accidentally ingests a hallucinogen in the mistaken belief that it's valium. The hallucinogen is a blend of unspecified drugs, but it's mentioned to contain LSD and ketamine, amongst other things. Leaving aside the fact that ecstacy has been a more popular party drug than LSD for decades, it's the valium that strikes an odd note. Valium was huge in the 50s and 60s, but these days its role as an anti-anxiety medication has been supplanted by its cousin Xanax.

So you have a character taking one old-fashioned drug in the belief that it's another old fashioned drug. In terms of outdated and cliched drug references, the only thing missing is a brazen reference to the birth-control pill.

Thirdly, there's an attempt to blackmail the bereaved family over some photographs that prove the deceased was having a gay affair.

Ahem... this is Britain in 2007. Reveal that someone was having a gay affair and it'll be less scandalous than admitting that he drove an SUV without purchasing carbon offsets. And on not one but two occasions, characters ask the question "Edward was a gay?". Not "Edward was gay?" but "Edward was a gay?". Nobody says "a gay" any more. People last talked like that in the late 60s, when characters in edgy kitchen sink dramas clearly ennunciated all five syllables in "homosexual" as if it were a complex and unfamiliar chemical compound.

It's also notable that the blackmailer only wants fifteen thousand pounds for his silence and the photos. The last time I looked, fifteen thousand pounds would barely buy you a budget hatchback in Britain, let alone enough money to live on until your next sugar daddy popped up. But forty years ago it was probably enough for a decent little flat in Chelsea, with enough left over for the new album by Sister Groove and the Freakout People.

Could it be that Dean Craig, stuffed with writer's block and desperate to push his fledgling career, came across an old, unproduced script in a library archive, written by some long forgotten Alan Ayckbourn wannabe in 1967? It would have been quite titilating and daring in a middle-class, drawing-room-farce kind of way. Update it with a little gratuitous swearing and some stage directions to show the nudity rather than implying it, and say hello to a big fat MGM royalty cheque.

I'm onto you, Craig. If your next movie makes even a passing reference to "women's libbers" or "free love", I'm calling the Screenwriters Guild.


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