by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Brenda Blethyn as BETTY RHYS-JONES
Alfred Molina as BORIS PLOTS
Christopher Walken as FRANK FEATHERBED
Robert Pugh as COUNCILLOR HUGH RHYS-JONES
Naomi Watts as MEREDITH
Lee Evans as DELBERT BUTTERFIELD
Directed by: Nick Hurran
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Let’s face it. Death can be funny.
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Oh, it’s not funny if it’s someone close to you. Death can really, really hurt. But when you look at the human method of grieving and some of the horrendously stupid things we do in the wake of the reaper, it’s hilarious.
“Undertaking Betty” is one of the warmest, sweetest dark comedies I’ve seen. It deals with the humor of death, but it does so in a very friendly manner. The movie itself presents the subject matter at a quirky angle and manages to tell a lovable story at the same time.
Betty Rhys-Jones (Brenda Blethyn) has a thankless life. She’s married to a philandering town councilman. Her true love is Boris Plots (Alfred Molina), the slightly creepy yet warm-hearted funeral director. One day – long after they began carrying a torch for each other – they confess their love to each other.
Because Betty’s such a nice person, she can’t bring herself to leave her husband. So Boris comes up with a plan: Fake her death and run away together. This way, her husband (who they both know doesn’t love her) can still get her inheritance without the scandal of a divorce. The only wrinkle in the plan is Frank Featherbed (Christopher Walken), the only rival funeral director in town, who is trying to corner the business.
The real charm in “Undertaking Betty” isn’t even the script – which is cute and fun in its own right. The real charm comes from the actors. It’s a nice ensemble that appears to have checked their egos at the door. Instead of trying to upstage one another, they seem to be doing it to have fun.
My favorite characters are Featherbed and his nerdy assistant Delbert (Lee Evans). In an attempt to offer a new and unique funeral service, the two try desperately to find a new angle. Their latest catch is a “fantasy funeral” in which the deceased dream is realized in the service. One has a “Star Trek” motif, and another is the star of its own Broadway show.
The really clever part of “putting the ‘fun’ in ‘funeral’” is that the film deals with subject matter and concepts that teeter on bad taste. However, because of how the film is handled, the humor seems perfectly harmless.
The DVD includes only a single bonus feature – a making-of featurette that tells the story of the film. This is an interesting enough feature, describing how this little-known script found its way from the states to England as a comedy. Unfortunately, there’s no more meat on the DVD.
Overall, “Undertaking Betty” is a sweet little film that was unfortunately forgotten by too many. It’s definitely worth a first (or second) look.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (2.35:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Spanish language track. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.