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Eulogy

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“Eulogy” is little more than a string of jokes stuffed into a contrived storyline, but a lot of the jokes are funny, so maybe it all balances out. I’ve certainly had worse times at the movies, though I’ve had far, far better, too.

It’s a dark-ish comedy set at the funeral of family man (played in flashbacks by Rip Torn) who wasn’t really liked by anyone in the family. Only his granddaughter Katie (Zooey Deschanel) and his wife Charlotte (Piper Laurie) have any fondness for him; his children all remember him only as a traveling salesman who was barely home and who couldn’t get their names right when he was.

They’re all various forms of screwed up. Kate’s dad Daniel (Hank Azaria) made one TV commercial as a kid and failed in the acting business almost immediately thereafter; he now works in porn, as did his late wife. Daniel’s brother Skip (Ray Romano), a hack lawyer, is a crass horndog, as are his twin teenage boys (Curtis and Keith Garcia). Their sister Alice (Debra Winger) is a cold control freak whose husband and three children never speak, either out of fear or because Alice never stops talking herself. The fourth sibling, Lucy (Kelly Preston), shows up for the funeral with her lesbian partner Judy (Famke Janssen), and the two announce marriage plans.

The family convenes a couple days before the funeral, enough time for Katie — Grandpa’s favorite — to write a eulogy. Trouble is, no one can come up with anything nice to say about him, and there’s barely time anyway, what with all the bickering that must be done and the old wounds that must be reopened.

Written and directed by new filmmaker Michael Clancy, the picture is wildly uneven in its tone and style, flitting from verbal humor (Katie was told her porn-star mom was “a social worker who died from caring too much”) to dark comedy (Grandma Collins’s many “hilarious” injuries) to situational awkwardness (a townsperson witnesses Katie renting a porn title from the local video store; someone falls out of a treehouse onto a car’s windshield while the occupants are making out). The most honest laughs are in the first categories, as Ray Romano especially has his share of funny lines, solidly delivered. The other types of comedy are much less successful, relying on increasingly broad and unlikely scenarios.

And yet the film remains likable, mostly, on a certain level, even if not a moment of it is believable. While we wouldn’t want any of these petty idiots in our own families, they are sporadically amusing to watch from the safe distance of a theater seat.

C+ (1 hr., 31 min.; R, some harsh profanity, some crude sexual dialogue, some sexual situations, some drug use.)

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