Neil LaBute Interview: “Death at a Funeral”
In early films like In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, writer-director Neil LaBute made it something of his stock in trade to examine dysfunctional relationships and uncomfortably intimate cruelties with vicious humor and a Mamet-like flair for acerbic, acid-tongued dialogue. Even later films such as Nurse Betty and The Shape of Things highlighted LaBute’s ongoing fascination with all the grotty stuff of human interaction–deceit, betrayals, hurtful candor, and hidden perversities–making for dramatic conflict poised somewhere between Greek tragedy and the visceral, skin-prickling plays of Harold Pinter. In addition to his filmography, LaBute is also an accomplished playwright and theater director whose first Broadway production, reasons to be pretty, was nominated for several Tony Awards last year. On stage and screen, LaBute’s knack for getting under the skin of an audience (he disaffiliated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when Bash, his caustic series of confessional short plays, caused a furor) has repeatedly opened him to the charge of misanthropy, but he brushes off such critical tarring as so much bluster, preferring to emphasize his range of interests. Possession was a lyrical adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s novel, and the more recent Lakeview Terrace a thriller about an interracial couple menaced by an ill-willed neighbor, played by Samuel L. Jackson. For his latest feature film, LaBute has taken another sharp turn, this time into broad humor, teaming up with comedian-producer Chris Rock for an American remake of Death at a Funeral with a largely African-American cast, including Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Zoe Saldana, and Danny Glover. Most of the action mirrors the set-up in Frank Oz’s ultra-eccentric British film, as the church service for a deceased patriarch is thrown into turmoil by petty jealousies and long-held resentments, mortuary mishaps, buffoonish antics, and accidentally imbibed hallucinogens. Peter Dinklage even reprises his role (toughened up a bit) as a mourner with a libidinous link to the family’s departed daddy.