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Miramax Pictures presents
Undertaking Betty (2002)

"You have no imagination, Delbert. That's your problem. No vision. I want to create a whole new kind of funeral. Keep in mind, the root word of 'funeral' is 'fun'."
- Frank Featherbed (Christopher Walken)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 07, 2006

Stars: Brenda Blethyn, Alfred Molina
Other Stars: Christopher Walken, Naomi Watts, Lee Evans, Robert Pugh, Jerry Springer, Howell Evans, Malcolm Cousins, Menna Trussler
Director: Nick Hurran

MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content
Run Time: 01h:28m:25s
Release Date: March 07, 2006
UPC: 786936700985
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BA-A- D

DVD Review

There's a moment at the very beginning of this one when I sensed things were about to go horribly wrong, and it occurs only a few seconds in. It's a brief case of cutesy subtitles, something that hasn't been funny since Monty Python nailed it in The Holy Grail. And when director Nick Hurran resorted to it at the outset it seemed like a case of trying too hard too soon to establish some level of quirky, forced charm, oddly enough done during a scene that is a beautifully shot flashback moment set at a school dance. It's a short scene, dialogue free, and it would have worked perfectly well without the distracting attempt of humorous subs.

That potential misstep aside, what follows is a cute English romantic comedy set in one of those idyllic country villages, teetering on farce in spots, and one with a layer of not quite dark humor at its heart. Brenda Blethyn is Betty, a fairly meek and mild woman married to a coarse, philandering politico, played by Robert Pugh, who is having an affair with his sexually insatiable secretary, portrayed by Naomi Watts. Alfred Molina is the softspoken, ballroom-dancing undertaker who's had a thing for Betty for decades, and the pair eventually conspire to fake her death in order for them to be together. It's an elaborate Rube Goldberg ruse, and their plan runs the risk of being spoiled by the town's other undertaker, played with a self-parodying over-the-top Walken-ism by Christopher Walken as the guy who wants to put "fun" back in funerals.

There's a feel at times that Hurran is juggling a few different styles at one time, with one featuring a cute (albeit dark) love story between Alfred Molina and Brenda Blethyn, another on the lusty affair between Robert Pugh and Naomi Watts (who really seems to relish the chance to camp it up as the horny secretary, complete with sexy Catwoman outfit) and the other centered on the broad comedy of Christopher Walken and Lee Evans (as his dim assistant) as the wacky undertakers.

These potentially disparate angles converge all at once in the tiny village of Wrottin-Powys, and Hurran is blessed with a talented cast that gives the whole affair the proper mix of subtle comedic timing (even Walken and Lee sporting Spock ears at a wake) that thankfully prevents this from turning into an out-and-out shrill farce, and the skill of the actors smooth out what could have easily been some jarring transitions.

This isn't quite as morbidly dark as it certainly could have been, but it has enough of a proper English bite to seem fresh and often rather funny. The characters may never seem like anyone you might know in real life (Blethyn comes closest, but even her Betty is almost too mousy to be more than a caricature), but they're a fun bunch to watch as they move through the sometimes silly material here.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a strong one, sporting some beautifully warm, smear-free colors and an excellent level of detail. Fleshtones look completely natural, and black levels are deep. No compression issues, no edge enhancement, no debris. A beauty.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track was quite a pleasant surprise, and hardly the type of full-bodied mix one might expect on a farcical English comedy. There's plenty of directional movement, with numerous cues out of the left and right fronts creating a wide, natural soundstage. Dialogue, especially all those potentially troublesome accents, are clean and clear. Not necessarily a showcase disc, but the audio mix is active and very bright.

A 2.0 surround dub in Spanish is also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring An Unfinished Life, Proof
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The solitary extra is a piece called The Fun in Funeral (06m:46s), a typical nonanamorphic widescreen EPK made slightly less enjoyable due to image quality being a bit on the blurry side. Cast and crew pontificate on the project, their love of Wales amidst clips from the film.

The disc is cut into 13 chapters, with optional subtitles in English or Spanish.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

This one dances on that dangerous line between romantic comedy and outright farce with alternating bouts of recklessness, and yet somehow, it all works: sweet and disarming on one hand, ribald and manic on the other. And then there's Christopher Walken doing what is essentially a Christopher Walken impression as an over-zealous undertaker who thinks way outside the box.



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