“Hey you, Neil LaBute. Yeah, you. So I hear you’re the guy to thank for this ‘Death at a Funeral’ business. You know, I watched the trailer, and I’ve got to say, if you don’t get yourself an Academy Award for bringing together almost every African American actor of the moment in this work of genius, then there must be something deeply wrong with the world.
I mean, I guess Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman might have better things to do than be in a rip-off of a film, but at least you got Tracy Morgan, right? And hey, man, just watching the trailer alone, your vast experience directing such works of art like ‘Lakeview Terrace’ and ‘The Wicker Man’ really shows. And you wrote ‘The Wicker Man’ too? Let me just say, I loved that YouTube video, Best Scenes from Wicker Man. You know, the one where Nicolas Cage beats up women for two and a half minutes.”
Such is the conversation I wish I could have with Neil LaBute. And sarcastic dialogue aside, I really, truly and whole-heartedly want to find out the answer to one question: Why the hell did someone think it was a good idea to remake “Death at a Funeral?”
For those who need a little context, “Death at a Funeral” was a British film from 2007. So if you were someone who just saw the trailer for the film on TV and felt like you’ve seen something like this before (although the original didn’t leave nearly as bad a taste in your mouth as this new trailer did) that would be why.
This has left the world of moviegoers in a general state of confusion. Whose idea was this? How did this cross so many bureaucratic hoops to actual completion? What’s the point of making this at all?
Truth be told, no one really knows. After scanning the wide world of the Internet, I’m left with little to no information about the issue. (And if you do find something, please e-mail it to me and I’ll write a follow-up on our blog, The Beat Goes On.) So far, no one has asked Neil LaBute why he took the helm of this remake, and no one asked the director of the original film, Frank Oz (whose directorial effort was “The Stepford Wives,” though he’s known for being a vocal mastermind behind the Muppets) his feelings about the film.
So we’re left with pretty much nothing. But nevertheless, remaking a film like “Death at a Funeral” has some serious consequences, and they need to be made plain.
Let’s start with the plot. Both versions of “Death at a Funeral” tell the story of a family coming together for a funeral and the crazy antics that ensue. However, that’s where the similarities end. The 2007 version was a critically well-received dry British comedy (although it sadly didn’t get the box office receipts it should have), whereas the upcoming “Death at a Funeral” is a slapstick, Americanized version with an African American cast. (Tyler Perry would be so proud.)
When watching the trailers side by side, they are similar in how they deliver almost the exact same plot points. For example, both trailers start by showing a family coming together, and the lead male opening the casket to take a last look at the recently deceased, and — gasp — it’s the wrong body. The 2007 version’s dialogue simply has the line “Who is this?” followed by a bewildered reaction from the funeral service director, and “that’s not my father.” Imagine that with a little British irony, and it’s humor.
The American version, however, takes things on a decidedly different route.
“That’s not my father,” Chris Rock says while looking into the casket. (Cut to shot of Asian man in the coffin.) “You got Jackie Chan in there!”
While the British version is more along the lines of a comedy of errors (think “The Importance of Being Earnest”), LaBute’s version fumbles with any such nuance and resorts to an unnecessary race joke.
Now, it needs to be made clear that the upcoming film’s disparity in quality has nothing to do with the fact that LaBute’s version was altered to “represent” the African American perspective. It’s only unfortunate that so many actors who could do better (Tracy Morgan excluded, but that’s obvious) decided to jump on the bandwagon for this film. I’m looking at you, Zoe Saldana.
That last point is important not because the new “Death at a Funeral” is making African Americans look bad, but — at the risk of getting a little Stephen Colbert on you — because it’s making America look bad. The latest incarnation of “Death at a Funeral” implies that “in America, we’ll take whatever movie we want, regardless of its merit, and do it our own way. So screw you.”
And not just that — the new version of “Death at a Funeral” implies that we as an American audience are incapable of liking nuanced, dry comedies like the 2007 version of “Death at a Funeral.” We’re actually incapable of liking decent films at all. Instead, film companies have to wring out subtlety in favor of in-your-face slapstick, crude jokes and general obnoxiousness. While this can be done in an appropriate way, “Death at a Funeral” is just one part of a long line of embarrassing American films that follow the same formula. Think “Norbit” (or really any Eddie Murphy film since 2002), “The Love Guru,” “Old Dogs” and “Wild Hogs,” among others.
America, the movie industry thinks we’re stupid. For every occasional “Rachel Getting Married” or “Up in the Air,” we’re treated to several horrifyingly stupid films to counteract it. We should be tired of seeing yet another thrown-together “comedy,” and we should be tired of seeing yet another remake.
We should tell the head honchos in the film industry to try harder. To be original. To forget remaking “Spiderman” or turning “Laverne and Shirley” into a full-length film. And tell them that if a remake is an absolute must — not all remakes are horrible, and some, like “Scarface” or “The Fly” can be better than the original — they better have a damn good reason for doing so.
But the bottom line is this: No one in script writing or directing or producing
is going to try harder if people keep seeing all of these god-awful films. And sadly, there might not be anything to stop it. It’s tough to say, but unless we drastically change how we spend our time at the movie theater, we’re just continuing to prove that we’re worth nothing more than the “Norbits” of the world.
And seriously, no one needs another Eddie Murphy movie like that.
Cailley Hammel is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. Do you like really, really, really, really bad films? Tell her about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.