Putting the fun back in funeral, the latest work by Gallic scribe-helmer-thesp Bruno Podalydes (“The Perfume of the Lady in Black”) is an airy, crowdpleasing comedy about that downer of downers: laying a loved one to rest. “Granny’s Funeral” was co-written by the helmer’s actor brother, Denis, who stars as a pharmacist caught between his almost ex-wife and his foul-mouthed mistress when his grandmother gives up the ghost. Especially enjoyable in its first half, when silliness takes precedence over semi-seriousness, the jeux-de-mots-filled pic should play especially well in Francophone territories, though some crossover is possible.
Armand (Denis Podalydes) runs a pharmacy with his wife, Helene (Isabelle Candelier), in a leafy suburb of Paris. Their teenage son, Vincent (Benoit Hamon), is more interested in videogames than in anything family-related, even something as momentous as the possible divorce of his parents, though Helene confesses she’s having trouble letting go. Armand, meanwhile, has moved on to the divorced Alix (comic Valerie Lemercier), who responds to his love for magic tricks that fuel the comic momentum of the pic’s opening scenes.
The sudden death of Armand’s paternal grandmother throws a monkey wrench into the proceedings, also because the family had sort of forgotten about her existence in the first place. Though unsure whether to figure out whether to bury her or have her cremated, Armand seeks out the advice of two funeral homes, each with its own idiosyncrasies that are reflected in the owners: Rovier-Boubet (Michel Vuillermoz) is a technologically savvy but ghostly-looking presence with ties to Helene’s mother (Catherine Hiegel), while the simpatico Gronda (played by the helmer), who actually specializes in pet funerals, is too easygoing.
The first hour flies by, aided by constantly chuckle-inducing puns (quite well-rendered in the subtitles on the Cannes print) and the hilarious use and spot-on timing of constant flurries of onscreen text messages shown against color-coded backgrounds.
The comic momentum slows, however, as the pic draws closer to the titular event, and the Podalydes brothers try to say something meaningful about death and infidelity that never quite registers as sincere. Armand’s memorial-service speech, as well as a scene that finds Armand and Alix in their grandmother’s bed together reading her letters, feel more like dramatic deadweight than a sudden shift into more serious territory.
Actors, many of them Podalydes regulars, are perfectly cast, and the film’s assembly is typically sunny and pro. Only diegetic music is used on the soundtrack, including some famous ditties that are hummed rather than sung.