Standard black-comedy stuff, then, though not without promise. Clancy doesn't have a strong directorial touch, operating only a level or two above the point-and-shoot techniques of an actual sitcom -- and a little lower when it comes to the laugh-track ready entrances and exits. But he does capture the feel -- the shabby decor, the lines of cereal boxes, the personal trepidation -- of a reluctant and unkempt family gathering. The Collins family is trapped in the family home until the funeral is over, foraging for emotional connections purely out of necessity. Whether this authenticity is achieved through close observation or a low budget is not immediately apparent; regardless, Eulogy's distaff family unit is more or less convincing -- as a whole, at least.
That's not necessarily enough. Clancy's screenplay has some good lines, especially from Romano's sleazy Skip, but it also includes character-sized miscalculations like Skip's twin hellraising sons, Fred and Ted (Curtis and Keith Garcia). They're just like any other smart-mouthed TV brats, only more vulgar; their creepy pre-pubescent leering is probably supposed to play to the Comedy Central crowd, but it's more like a group-written Sitcom Extreme.
The whole movie is like that, rising and falling on the strength of what Clancy gives to his talented cast and how the actors navigate it. The most clunk-proof is Zooey Deschanel, an actress almost impossible to dislike. Although her low-key sarcasm is replaced here with low-key reactions like widening or rolling her eyes, she's a good choice to play the one family member who (somewhat inexplicably) sees good in her departed grandfather, approaching the eulogizing with disarming sincerity. Hank Azaria has an easy and unforced father-daughter chemistry with Deschanel, reminding us that he's available for more than funny accents in Ben Stiller movies.
Debra Winger, on the other hand, is given a near-unplayable part: Alice is somehow simultaneously uptight, snarky, manic, and homophobic, and gains would-be sympathetic traits only because the screenplay arbitrarily assigns her some. It's a shrill and graceless performance, but probably not Winger's fault. Kelly Preston's Lucy is stuck reacting almost exclusively to Alice, which effectively functions as a developmental prison for her underwritten character.
So with its half-affecting, half-crass characters and half-funny, half-strained jokes, Eulogy is the very definition of hit and miss. Eventually it tips the balance of a real family gathering, which Clancy is presumably trying to evoke: You may not have a terrible time, but you're not necessarily glad you showed up.
The DVD adds a number of extended, deleted, and alternate scenes.
Run time: 91 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 24th February 2005
Box Office USA: $41.8k
Distributed by: Lions Gate Films
Production compaines: Myriad Pictures, Eulogy Productions LLC, Ovation Entertainment, Artisan Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 32%
Fresh: 11 Rotten: 23
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Michael Clancy
Screenwriter: Michael Clancy
Starring: Hank Azaria as Daniel Collins, Jesse Bradford as Ryan Carmichael, Zooey Deschanel as Kate Collins, Glenne Headly as Samantha, Famke Janssen as Judy Arnolds, Kelly Preston as Lucy Collins, Ray Romano as Skip Collins, Rip Torn as Edmund Collins, Debra Winger as Alice Collins, Piper Laurie as Charlotte Collins, Paget Brewster as Aunt Lily, Brian Posehn as Video Store Clerk, Rene Auberjonois as Parson Banke
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