Written and Directed: Michael Clancy
I think Eulogy is not as darkly funny and cutting as writer/director Michael Clancy thinks it is. Instead of spending enough time showing us how horrible these people are to each other, Eulogy wastes a lot of screen time effectively apologising to us for its horrible characters rather than exploiting them to full comic effect. With such a talented cast and a script that actively encourages off-the-wall acting, the story seemed too sedate, probably because the adult characters spend half the film stoned.
Despite his attempt to make his fictional family the definition of dysfunctional, the Collins family just aren't evil enough before they start on the journey towards redemption. The family members have all been summoned home to attend the funeral of their father Edmund (Rip Torn). The story, as much as there is one, is told mostly through the eyes of Kate (the wonderful Zooey Deschanel).
Kate liked her grandfather, but she's pretty much the only one. Even Edmund's long-suffering wife Charlotte (Piper Laurie) sees his death as an exit plan. However, Charlotte loved Edmund enough to give Kate one duty for the funeral, to write and deliver a eulogy for her grandfather that gives him a fitting sendoff from all the family.
As she attempts to write the eulogy, her aunts, uncles and cousins don't offer up much help. In a slightly deadpan version of his well-worn TV schtick, Ray Romano as Skip does the film no favours. He's suffering acute middle-child syndrome and believes his father never paid any attention to him because his brother was in a cute peanut butter commercial. Skip is saved from being unbearable somewhat by the fact that his twin boys are in almost every scene with him. They're destined to end up just like him except for one important fact; they are infinitely more dangerous, and funnier, because they appear to be evil geniuses in the making.
Alice (Debra Winger) is the overbearing older sister who is such a domineering wife and mother that her husband is no longer capable of finishing sentences and her children now no longer speak at all. Alice has spent most of her adult life torturing her younger sister Lucy (the constantly underrated Kelly Preston) about her lesbianism. Lucy turns up at the funeral with her droll "life partner" Judy (Famke Jansson) and announces at dinner that they're getting married, which only inflames Alice further. Of course, Alice is resentful simply because she's harbouring some same-sex tendencies of her own.
When no one has anything pleasant to say about her grandfather, Kate finds herself drawn to an old friend in the neighbourhood, Ryan (Jesse Bradford). Kate lost her virginity to him the summer before and he's still carrying a huge torch. Kate knows nothing about real love and keeps pushing him away, hardly surprising since she's come from the Collins household of hell, her father is a pot-smoking actor and her mother was a porn star. In the end it is Ryan's straightforward, naive emotions—uncluttered by the Collins family history—that helps Kate deliver a eulogy that unites the entire family, if only for a brief moment.
It's not difficult to see the areas in Eulogy that could have been improved. If the script had let Hank Azaria loose with his character instead of making him a pothead things might have gone better. Famke Jansson was seriously miscast as the lesbian lover, had only one expression and missed every comedic cue she had, which drags down Kelly Preston's quite excellent performance.
Preston finds comic subtleties in her character that you can easily miss, but like her supporting role in View From The Top, she fills up every moment she has onscreen. Glenne Headley's Samantha the ever-helpful nurse was a gas, but it was almost as if Clancy never really decided upon the best way to use her so she gets lost in the confusion. I would also have been happier if the eulogy in question had been for Ray Romano's career being put to rest, because it needs to be, and soon.
There's an awful lot to like about Eulogy, but it is a film of funny moments lacking an engaging, emotional core. Clancy can't seem to decide if he wants his film to be a witty comedy of (lack of) manners or a slapstick farce, and he doesn't have the talent to carry off both.