I really put off writing this one, because, as they say, bad news
will keep. And it pains me that the movie is bad news. I don’t
even have the heart to ridicule it.
Straining at its seams to be irreverent, Eulogy is yet
another “dysfunctional family” comedy, and it ain’t
even that funny. Eulogy takes an ensemble cast that frankly
had me salivating and rubbing my hands with glee, and throws it
at the Velcro wall of comedy to see if anything sticks. If you pine
for this sort of thing, see Jodie Foster’s
far superior Home For The Holidays (1995).
Much of the story is related in voiceover by Kate Collins (Deschanel),
the favored grandchild whom Ed Collins (Torn) chose
to deliver his eulogy. Trouble is, Kate’s memories of Grandpa
Ed are hazy, soft-focus Kodak moments that don’t really translate
into words. So, for apparently the first time in her young life,
Kate asks her relatives about Ed and—what a surprise—finds
that their recollections are far less fond. Her father (Azaria),
her aunts (Winger and Preston),
and her uncle (Romano) recall only a self-absorbed
SOB who traveled a lot. This, in fact, is about the only thing they
can agree on. So you’ve got all these personalities thrown
together for a weekend of recriminations followed by a funeral.
What fun, eh?
Well, no. Part of the problem lies with the siblings that writer-director
Clancy has created. These folks are such rigid
types that it’s almost like he consulted a birth-order chart
when he made them up. We have the “good” brother and
the “wild” sister (in this case “wild” apparently
merely because she’s a lesbian) and the control-freak sister
and the always-overlooked brother. Then there’s the problem
of Mr. Romano’s performance, for which he did not tax himself
by diverging from his TV character. I did not love Raymond sufficiently
to appreciate a sibling whose accents and intonations made him sound
like no one else in the family. But Eulogy is also just
a way too broadly drawn comedy, one that often deals in wacky for
wacky’s sake, and that has some character motivations that
are as neat and tidy as Psych 101. Believe you me, you’ll
be shaking your head in wonderment that Winger’s character
isn’t wise to herself. We the viewers are, ages before the
movie finally takes her where we knew she was going all along, even
before the cliché of Joan Armatrading music.
Jean Grey… uh, Famke Janssen and Hank Azaria
are reliably entertaining. Deschanel is equal to the leading role
thrust upon her here, and Jesse Bradford makes
a charming love interest for her. Wasting the great Debra
Winger ought to be a hanging offense, though, and it’s
not clear to me what about this role enticed her from home and hearth.
Eulogy is full of good ideas, badly written. I recently
ran into this syndrome with The Eyre Affair, a Jasper
Fforde book that so many folks have recommended. No moviegoing
experience is more frustrating than seeing fantastic resources—in
this case, the talent—and exciting ideas squandered.