2004, R, 85 min. Directed by Michael Clancy. Starring Hank Azaria, Zooey Deschanel, Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Kelly Preston, Ray Romano, Debra Winger, Glenne Headly, Rip Torn, Jesse Bradford.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 15, 2004
Writer-director Michael Clancy’s debut film is an amusing comedy with a killer cast that seems like it should be a lot funnier than it ultimately is. It’s a black comedy that never goes beyond a shade of gray. Eulogy’s portrait of a bickering family has as many mean-spirited barbs as genuinely funny ones. At its center, Deschanel shines as her grandfather’s favorite relative who is asked by her grandmother to deliver a eulogy at his funeral – the occasion for which the whole family has reunited. Each family member is a "character," with lives and situations that sound funnier on paper than they appear on the screen. Azaria plays the son who has never been able to surpass his childhood glory as the goofy star of a popular peanut butter commercial. Romano takes a 180-degree turn from his character that "everybody loves" to play this film’s crass other son, who is also the parent of obnoxious twin sons. Preston co-stars as the daughter who comes home with her lesbian lover (Janssen), much to everyone’s scandalized horror, while Winger was coaxed out of retirement to play the family’s eldest daughter, who is a pathologically energetic control freak whose husband never even speaks a word. The matriarch of the brood (Laurie) has a seriously suicidal streak, and grandpa (Torn) turns out to have been a man of many secrets. The running joke about the writing of the eulogy is that no one can think of anything nice to say about the deceased. The gags and the professionalism of the actors keep Eulogy flowing, but there are just too many moments in which the details of a scene ring false. Azaria and Deschanel are the only ones who manage to escape this fate and actually pull off moments of real emotion. Eulogy is neither ditzy enough as comedy nor realistic enough as human drama to live a long life.