Doodad Kind of Town

DVD Review: "Eulogy"
February 10, 2008, 1:39 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I had never heard of the 2004 indie black comedy, “Eulogy” until last fall when I was visiting friends. After a lively Friday night dinner, my friends, Paige and Michelle, pressed a copy of the film on VHS into my hand, assured me it was great and hilarious, and encouraged me to watch it.

My VCR has been banished to storage since the DVR came to live with me, but when “Eulogy” popped up recently on the Independent Film Channel, I made sure I recorded it. After all, Paige and Michelle are both smart, sharp women with exceptional taste. They are very generous, too – and in their favorable assessment of “Eulogy,” I fear they are a tad more generous than I.

It’s not that the talent wasn’t there. I’m not familiar with the writer/director Michael Clancy; IMDB credits him with only one other film, a short subject called “Emily’s Last Date”. But his cast is packed with stellar actors (including Debra Winger, Hank Azaria, Rip Torn, Piper Laurie, Zooey Deschanel and Kelly Preston) who do their best to pump feeling and meaning into some very formulaic proceedings.

“Eulogy” is one of those movies where dysfunctional siblings (Winger, Preston, Azaria, and Ray Romano) are called home for a parent’s funeral (their father, played by Torn in brief flashbacks). Once home, they fight constantly, whine about who Daddy loved best, reopen old wounds, spill family secrets, and eventually cry, hug and forgive each other by the time Daddy is lowered into the ground. (Or, in this case, launched into a lake on a flaming rowboat.). It’s a movie you’ve already seen a million times, and it would take a very exceptional writer to make it fresh and interesting. Clancy’s script has occasional glimmers of promise, but ultimately adds nothing new to a worn-out plot template.

Laurie plays the ‘comically’ suicidal mother of this clan. Even before the funeral, she tries to take her own life twice – first with an overdose of pills, then by hurling herself from a moving car. Her suicide attempts are played for laughs and are seemingly motivated by nothing but a desire to escape the hell of being around her obnoxious offspring.

In fact, everybody in this movie does crazy, quirky things that generally feel more forced and contrived than organic to their characters. Winger and Preston, for example, launch into a full-blown fistfight early on, and you never know where it came from. Their mutual hatred is over-the-top and frankly, unbelievable. We’ll later learn why Winger’s loathing of Preston actually amounts to self-loathing, but even that revelation comes off as wacky and out-of-nowhere. Only Azaria’s sweet-spirited, failed actor – his father’s favorite – seems to be a fully realized, fully credible character.

Preston brings Famke Janssen home and introduces her as ‘my life partner,’ which leads to a slew of thoroughly tasteless lesbian jokes from Winger, Romano and Romano’s preternaturally lubricious twin sons. I understand the jokes are meant to demonstrate how loutish these characters are, but they’re still painful to sit through.

Amidst the amped-up craziness, Deschanel -the beloved granddaughter who’s been given the task of delivering Grandpa’s eulogy – is the sane, sensible observer/peacemaker (every family needs one). Deshcanel’s performance is actually the grounding force that keeps the movie from running off the rails. You can always see the vulnerability behind her deadpan delivery, and she plays very nicely off the other, loonier characters.

There’s a surprise ending which seems a little over-the-top as well, and it involves a revelation about dear old Dad. Let’s just say, he was a bit of a rascal – and given that’s he played by Rip Torn, that should come as no surprise. (Wouldn’t it be interesting if, just once, Torn could play a character who was sane, decent and responsible?)

Despite the contrivances, “Eulogy” offers some scattered pleasures, not the least of which is seeing Debra Winger again. Winger was a virtual force of nature in early ‘80s films like “Urban Cowboy” and “Terms of Endearment,” and it’s nice to see she still has the same ferocious energy and total commitment to her character here. If only someone would give her a decent role again.


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