I couldn’t attend my grandfather’s funeral a few months ago. I regretted this, not just because I would like to have helped memorialize him, but because of my siblings’ reports on what happened when the whole extended family got together. We hadn’t seen some of these cousins, aunts and uncles in a long time, and the anecdotes concerning their behavior and character traits were delightful. Hearing about it made me think, for just a brief moment, that such a scenario — a family reunites to mourn a loved one — could make a great, quirky comedy.
Then I remembered that such a scenario has already been used to make about 1,000 quirky comedies, some great and some not-so-. But I could see why it’s the go-to premise for independent filmmakers. It is rife with possibilities, both comic and dramatic, and most writers have experienced something similar to it that they can draw from.
Which probably explains “In Memory of My Father,” a — you guessed it — quirky independent comedy that takes its shopworn scenario and turns it into comic gold. Hand-held cameras and semi-improvised dialogue lend it realism, while the flurry of well-crafted comic situations it creates brings it to heights of hilarity. It’s a perfect example of doing something new with an old story.
The event is the death of Dad (David Austin), a movie producer who has lingered in bed in the Hollywood Hills before finally kicking the bucket this morning. Prior to his death, he bribed his youngest son Chris (Christopher Jaymes, also the writer/director) to document his final days and whatever wakes or memorial services are held subsequently. It’s the last vain act of a vain Hollywood type who wants to live forever on film.
Chris has recruited his friend Pat (Pat Healy) to assist him in videotaping everything, a project that leads to hysterically callous moments like asking Dad’s latest youthful girlfriend Judy (Judy Greer) to weep “over there, where the light is better.”
Soon people have gathered for a wake, and we get to see how hedonists mourn. (Hint: It involves a lot of drugs and alcohol.) Chris’ brother Jeremy (Jeremy Sisto) is on hand, upset over the departure of his wife Monet (Monet Mazur), who is a lesbian now. Chris’ latest girlfriend, the 17-year-old Christine (Christine Lakin), arrives, as does Chris’ ex-girlfriend Nicholle (Nicholle Tom) and her new doormat boyfriend Todd (Todd Rulapaugh). Pat is eager to see Chris and Jeremy’s half-sister Meadow (Meadow Sisto), who he has the hots for and who is bringing her boyfriend Eric (Eric Michael Cole). The oldest brother, Matt (Matt Keeslar), shows up eventually and hits on Judy, his late father’s girlfriend who is, to be fair, Matt’s own age.
And those are just the characters with names! The large house is soon full of people drinking, laughing and allegedly mourning, while the principals are encountering exes, getting drunk or high, making things worse, and talking about sex. Jeremy and Eric do Ecstasy and put on bathrobes, while Pat gets drunk, declares his feelings for Meadow, and then angrily barges around the backyard shouting, “I want to get in a fight!” At one point Chris improvises a song on the piano called “Daddy’s Dead.”
The performances are uniformly good, funny without going over the edge into goofiness. It’s the situations that are brilliantly concocted, in an “Arrested Development” sort of way, so that all the characters need to do to be funny is to react naturally.
In the aftermath of the wild party/wake, there is even some emotional truth to be found. Dad’s death has been a catalyst for these hopelessly shallow souls to face their troubles and to learn a little something. Not a lot, mind you, but something. And there the film crosses over from smart comedy into smart, respectable comedy, a comedy that goes somewhere without making you feel like you’re being taken. This is definitely one to watch.
A- (1 hr., 36 min.; )