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They're kooky but fall short of lovable

'Eulogy,' a comedy about the reunion of a messed-up family, assembles all the right elements but can't quite put them all together.

October 15, 2004|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

"Eulogy" is one of those movies that seems to have everything going for it: an intriguing premise, great jokes, a nice personality and the kind of cast directors would trade in their own relatives for. So you want to love it. You feel it deserves to be loved. You appreciate its many fine qualities. You're certain there's someone out there that's just perfect for it. But somehow it's just not working for you.

Written and directed by first-timer Michael Clancy, "Eulogy" is a reunion comedy about slack family bonds in the same vein as other funny-poignant messed-up family movies like "Pieces of April" and "The Royal Tenenbaums." Like them, it assembles a misfit clan for a family milestone and looks on as old rivalries and grudges are rekindled and buried secrets are revealed.

This time, the milestone is the death of loose-cannon family patriarch Grandpa Collins (Rip Torn), a salesman who was never around and sometimes inexplicably called his children by some other name. The family gathers, and Grandma (Piper Laurie) informs granddaughter Kate (Zooey Deschanel), a monotonal but obliging college freshman, that she is expected to deliver the eulogy. Kate quickly draws a blank and asks her relatives for help, which would make sense, if they weren't the ones who needed it.

Kate's dad, Daniel (Hank Azaria), is a former child star turned porn star still grieving the loss of a toothpaste commercial he didn't get in his teens. His sister Lucy (Kelly Preston) is an uptight lesbian with a laid-back girlfriend, Judy (Famke Janssen), and whose defensiveness reaches a fever pitch around her punishing sister. Her other brother Skip (Ray Romano) finds Lucy and Judy's sex life inordinately fascinating, as do his horrible twins, Fred and Ted (Curtis and Keith Garcia). Big sister Alice (Debra Winger) is so caustically neurotic she's rendered her husband and kids permanently speechless.

All this off-the-wall detachment from reality might be OK if the characters didn't also feel detached from one another. In a different movie, the process of writing the eulogy might have drawn the family together, or pushed them farther apart, or resulted in some kind of forced revelation or moment of transcendence. But nothing here really seems to gel.

Despite the formidable efforts of the cast, the characters in "Eulogy" seem less like people than like disjointed collections of traits, tics and big, swinging surprises that bash through the script like wrecking balls. Neat, straight lines are drawn between characters' more salient qualities and old, buried secrets. "Eulogy" gets too caught up in its own kookiness to really dig deep in the story. Things happen, but little unfolds.

As a result, it's hard to commit to the movie. Still, it does have some snappy dialogue. When Lucy serves the family a disgusting casserole, Skip observes, "This looks like it fell out of a horse." Or when Alice says, "Don't keep casting me in the role of the neurotic control freak," and Lucy replies, "Don't keep auditioning for it." Or when Nurse Samantha (Glenne Headley) tells a suicidal Grandma in a full body cast, "I knew you'd kill yourself if you missed your husband's funeral."

Lines like these don't happen every day. But without any feeling to back them up, the movie is like a promising date that goes nowhere.



MPAA rating: R for language, sexual content and drug use.

Times guidelines: Some swearing, some fooling around, someone smokes a joint.

Hank Azaria...Daniel Collins

Zooey Deschanel...Kate Collins

Famke Janssen...Judy

Kelly Preston...Lucy

Ray Romano...Skip

Debra Winger...Alice

Lions Gate Entertainment and Myriad Pictures present, in association with Southpaw Entertainment, S.R.O. Entertainment AG and Equity Pictures Medienfonds GmbH & Co. KG, with the participation of Cherry Road Films, a Haft Entertainment / Myriad Pictures production, released by Lions Gate Films. Writer-director Michael Clancy. Executive producers Lucas Foster, Kendall Morgan, Bo Hyde, Rory Rosegarten, Jonas McCord, Shelly Glasser. Producers Steve Haft, Richard B. Lewis, Kirk D'Amico. Director of photography Michael Chapman. Editor Richard Halsey. Music George S. Clinton. Production designer Dina Lipton. Costume designer Tracy Tynan. Art director Marc Dabe. Set decorator Ryan Welsch. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

In selected theaters.

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