Let me take you back to 2007: I’m in the cinema to watch Spider-Man 3 (2007) with my family. A trailer starts up. I play a game where I try to guess the name of the film, which my sister mocks by calling the film “Death at a Funeral”. She is right. That film went on to be one of my favourite films. Little did I know that that was just the beginning.
2009: I’ve moved out of home. I'm living with some friends, buying ex-rental DVDs because they’re cheaper and we are poor. I find a pink DVD called Caffeine (2006) with Mena Suvari, Breckin Myer, a man in a nappy and a man in lingerie. It’s $4.95, so I take a swing. This also went on to be one of my favourite films.
2015: I’m looking at Ron Perlman’s filmography and being depressed that we definitely aren’t getting a Hellboy 3 (never). I find an upcoming film called Moonwalkers (2015) where he plays a CIA agent, who is failing at hiring Stanley Kubrick to shoot the moon landing. I had to wait a bit to get my hands on it, but this also went on to be one of my favourite films.
Now these may seem like three completely separate films with absolutely nothing in common, but without me knowing it, these were all written by screenwriter Dean Craig. I don’t know what it is about his films that tickle me in just the right way. I’m never looking for his work, but I always seem to find his work. In 2011, he also wrote A Few Best Men (2011) which said, “from the writer of Death at a Funeral” in the trailer, so I went in knowing what I was getting into there. Then, just last night I jumped onto Netflix, and a trailer automatically played for my wife while I was in the kitchen. Just from overhearing the dialogue, I knew: “he’s back”.
I didn’t really pay attention to that trailer initially. To be honest, I was cooking some fried rice and it required my absolute attention. After watching the trailer through, yeah, it's obviously Dean Craig. I say that, mainly because it just seemed to be Death at a Funeral for weddings, which also feels like the pitch for A Few Best Men (2011). Being a remake of French film Plan de Table (2012), I’m not sure how much is taken from there (I don’t speak French, the trailer made no sense to me), but it definitely does share a lot of elements with his earlier work.
A straight man is surrounded by every stooge possible while he tries to fix everything at some form of event. It’s Death at a Funeral. It’s A Few Best Men. It’s Moonwalkers. It’s what Dean Craig's good at.
In this case, Jack, our straight man, tries to make everything right for his sister’s wedding whilst dealing with: the woman he’s in love with; his psychotic ex-girlfriend and her jealous boyfriend; his neurotic actor of a best friend and the woman who’s crushing on him; a cocaine-addled childhood friend; and the most aggressively boring man who has ever lived. What makes this at least stand out a bit from his previous work, is the Sliding Doors (1998) style narrative device of a randomised table plan.
Although we only legitimately see two outcomes of the 40, 320 different combinations when seating eight people around a table, it’s still enough of a hook to give us something different. Also, I’m a huge fan of alternate timelines, and when it’s in a non-sci-fi setting, I find it even more compelling.
Where this suffers though, is the way it's told. One timeline is fully told first, and then the movie stops, rewinds and tells another storyline. Although a nice surprise, I feel like it could have possibly felt better paced if both stories were told in tandem, and maybe even cutting to one of the other timelines every now and then for a gag. I'm sure they spoke about that and I'm completely wrong and it wouldn't work, it's just my gut instinct as an editor. I may just be an idiot, though, never forget.
When talking alternate timelines, it’s hard not to talk about fate. Is fate real? Do we have a destiny? What is our destiny? Is everything just chance? Are we just a bunch of atoms bouncing around for no reason? You know, small talk. And although a character does end up explicitly saying its message by the end, it’s still impressive the way it expresses themes throughout the film.
Admittedly, I didn’t know about the split-timelines story until it was happening, but the movie still has a lot of talk about what was meant to happen. After all, everything goes wrong because they made a plan to make it right, and we’re going to watch it all fall apart. And although brief snippets of other possibilities are shown, all going in varying levels of wrong, I believe the film explores the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario.
What’s great about this though, is that what happens to be the worst-case, doesn’t seem all that bad to begin with, and what happens to be the best-case, seems like it would be the absolute worst. In the snippets, it even shows where the plan should’ve gone right, but it still went wrong. At a time like this, when everything is going wrong in the world and we’re definitely in the darkest timeline, it’s good to be shown that sometimes plans aren’t meant to work, and when times seem like they’re at their worst, it might just be what we need to be our very best.
It’s kind of poignant for a film that has the line “you and your awesome genitals” in it.
The defining rule of what makes a Dean Craig film work or not appears to be the directing. This can be seen no more clearly than when comparing the Death at a Funeral films. Both are written by Craig, but one is directed by one of the finest comedic directors of our time (and voice of Miss Piggy and Yoda), and the other is directed by the guy who did The Wicker Man (2006) (so clearly, he has a taste for screwing up remakes). The only difference is how the comedy is presented: whether it just happens and we watch a bunch of bumbling fools try to sort themselves out, or whether we watch a bunch of actors trying their hardest to act funny and play for the back of the audience.
This is the first time Dean Craig is directing his own writing, so at the very least, you’d hope he understands what makes his writing work. As a first-time director, the visuals of the film are really nothing to write home about. There’s some shakier camera work when we’re with the coke-head, but that’s about as interesting as it gets. The performances on the other hand really work. I don’t think the pacing is quite as good as Death at a Funeral, but at the very least he understands how his lines should be delivered and how the characters should react. Tim Key, who plays the most boring man alive, has to be one of the most frustrating and hilarious characters I’ve seen on screen in a long time. Making boring funny is hard work, but when done right, it works so well. It’s so satisfying after A Few Best Men, which played the “I’m really funny, look at me” game.
Frank Oz is thanked in the credits, so that makes a lot of sense.
I feel incredibly biased. I honestly wonder whether I would've liked the film as much, had I not known it was him before watching. But going in with no idea, would’ve been unavoidable because his name opens the film. I didn’t like A Few Best Men all that much, if that helps. Never got around to watching the sequel because of it.
I don’t think Love. Wedding. Repeat (2020) is Dean Craig's best, but the fact that he’s started directing his own work gives me hope for the future.
I want to say I wish we saw more from the other timelines, just to give us more of an idea of how bad things could’ve gone, but the film does end with short scenes from some of them. You have to understand, when I say snippet, I mean snippet. I mean, less than a second; you just see a flash of what went wrong. My guess is that those credit scenes were meant for the film, but the pacing didn’t work so they put them at the end. I’m grateful they’re there, in either case.
If you liked Death at a Funeral (2008), but haven’t seen it in a long time, then this might be right up your alley. If you have seen it recently, there might be a chance that it feels too close and I fully understand that. I haven’t seen it in at least a year, so I was pretty safe. I am definitely watching it next week though. And if you have some way of watching Caffeine (2006), I strongly suggest it. It’s not nearly as well directed, it feels like it’s a straight to TV movie and Katherine Heigl is British, but it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.