Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Movie Log: Eulogy

Last year, The Wife and I saw and really enjoyed a movie called Death at a Funeral, an ensemble comedy set at a funeral in England. Eulogy is another ensemble comedy set at a funeral, so I thought it could be an American version of Death at a Funeral.

Which it definitely is...if by "American" one means trite, obvious, and heavy-handed. (And, let's be honest, that's often a good shorthand definition of the word.)

Eulogy isn't a bad movie...well, let me back up slightly. It isn't a horrible movie, but it is incredibly shallow. If that fish-bowl to the left was a true metaphor for this movie, the water would barely be lapping around the characters' ankles. Everyone in Eulogy has one or two character traits, which they embody well, but that's about it. And then they bounce off of each other, to create sitcom-level humor and some attempted pathos.

Rip Torn was the patriarch of this family -- I'm not going to bother to mention any character's names, since I didn't care about them and neither will you -- but he recently died, leaving his widow Piper Laurie, and four children. One son (Hank Azaria) is a failed actor -- he was in one well-known commercial when he was a kid, but now works as a non-sex actor in porn films. (He has a college-aged daughter, Zooey Deschanel, who is the mushy center of the movie.) The other son, Ray Romano, is a vaguer, slighter version of an early-'90s Tim Allen male stereotype, with twin tween sons who are more obviously, and humorously, Neanderthalish. One sister, Kelly Preston, has become a lesbian, and brought her wife-to-be, Famke Jansen, with her. (Preston, I'm afraid, gets very little characterization beyond the fact of her orientation, and Jansen only gets a few lines herself.) And the other sister, who I was surprised to realize was Debra Winger, is a demanding and controlling wife and mother (of three silent children) who also relentlessly harasses Preston for the very fact of being a lesbian in head-scratchingly outrageous ways.

So they get back together in the requisite Big Old House, and Laurie tries to commit suicide a couple of times for what seems like purely comedic reasons, and Deschanel meets up again with an old friend, Jesse Bradford, whom she fell into bed with (and then ran quickly away from) the last time she saw him.

Eulogy has a lot of stuff, but most of it doesn't become plot -- it's just a series of events happening to a group of people over a short time. Many of those events are somewhat funny, though rarely as funny as they're supposed to be. Eulogy wants to have a serious core, but it's too badly shaped -- full of lumpy dialogue and cliched interactions -- to be taken seriously. And it has a lot of fringe -- lots of lines of dialogue or bits of business that set up things that never pay off. It would be a perfectly adequate movie to watch on a plane, and it does have a lot of decent actors in it -- I didn't even mention Glenne Headly as a nurse with an unexpected connection to the family or Rene Auberjonois as the requisite pastor who didn't know the deceased -- but it's nothing to seek out.

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