Movie Marketing Madness: Death at a Funeral

Dark comedies about socially awkward situations are probably among my favorite. That likely has a lot to do with the fact that I just love black comedies and am, myself, socially awkward a good amount of my life. So I might be projecting a bit, or at least finding solace in the fact that at least I’m not *that* bad.

Death at a Funeral certainly seems to fall into the “dark, socially awkward comedy” category. On its surface the plot description isn’t very exciting (Family gathers after the patriarch dies, wackiness ensues). The marketing campaign, though, really shows off just what this movie is willing to do for a laugh.

(Ed. Note: Hey, if Hollywood can put such little obvious effort into recycling material I don’t feel any need to put any outsized effort into my columns.)

The Posters

The film’s poster is pretty simple and makes it clear that the main attraction is going to be the ensemble cast that appears within the movie. Everyone is arranged on top of and around the casket that is the centerpiece of the comedy in the story – including Marsden who appears nude though thankfully well covered by Rock – and all the family members have shocked, sad or resigned looks on their faces.

The poster manages to pull off the substantial feat of including two plays-on-words in both of the primary copy points. At the top the “This is one sad family” bit is supposed to mean both that they are in mourning and that they’re kind of pathetic. At the bottom the “Die laughing” text is meant to convey that there’s death featured prominently in the film and that it’s funny. While this saturation of bad punning pushes the boundaries of what is or isn’t socially acceptable, I do think the designers need to have a Key Art award given in their honor for accomplishing this feat.

The Trailers

While not a shot for shot redo of the trailer for the original film, this trailer does make it clear that the same jokes are going to be hit if from different angles. We get the same gag about it not being the right man in the casket, the same jokes about the outsider ingesting hallucinogenic drugs instead of simple valium and the same gags about the deceased father being involved with a man half his size in secret and that man now appearing at the wake in order to extort money to keep that secret.

It works in and of itself. Knowledge of the original is not necessary but does make some of the jokes funnier as you remember how they were delivered in that first version. But the jokes in the trailer stand on their own and are still quite funny, I would guess, even if you’ve never seen the first one. Martin Lawrence doesn’t seem to be at his most annoying and Chris Rock appears to be fairly solid in the lead role of the one responsible son in the family. I twinge a bit at Danny Glover being given the grouchy old uncle role – how long ago was Lethal Weapon again? – but he manages to do what he can with it based on his couple scenes in this spot. One thing that’s clear, though, is that James Marsden is no Alan Tudyk when it comes to comedy, but I’m guessing we all kind of knew that intuitively even before it was made clear here.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by prompting you to either Enter the Site or Watch Restricted Videos. Those restricted videos are relatively tame and are likely labeled like that because they involve either nudity or problems in the bathroom. So they’re more “raunchy” than “restricted.” There are also links to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter page as well as icons to share the site on those two networks or a couple others.

Once you do enter the site proper the first section is “About the Film,” which opens with a Synopsis that’s only a couple sentences that hint at the wackiness that ensues in the story. There are also Cast and Filmmakers areas, but they just contain lists of who was involved and not any full biographies or other information, an omission I’m not sure is the result of the size of the cast or that the studio didn’t think anyone would care.

There are about a dozen stills in the “Gallery” and “Downloads” has Wallpapers, AIM Icons and even a couple of Twitter Skins you could add to your profile. “Videos” just has the one trailer.

“Promotions” is labeled as Coming Soon, which is always a good sign considering the movie is four days away from being released.

“Make Your Eulogy” is basically a Mad Libs type of game that lets you fill in various details about the deceased and, once your done, share it on Facebook or via email or grab the permalink to your creation, which is brought to life by putting your words in Chris Rock’s mouth, which is kind of funny.

The film’s Facebook page opens with a link to that Make Your Eulogy game and also contains a Soundboard as well as the usual photos and links to some of the film’s press coverage and the cast’s promotional tour. Likewise for the movie’s Twitter profile, which is largely focused toward the end on an appearance the cast made on a Justin.tv channel.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A pretty hefty TV campaign was run, with the biggest slapstick gags pulled out and put into some commercials. The spots were pretty funny in much the same way the trailer was funny. I even caught a couple of radio commercials that, for some reason, heavily highlighted that it was from director Neil Labute.

That’s all I was aware of, though that might not be the full scope of the campaign.

Media and Publicity

Quite a bit of the publicity and press was focused around Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan, two of the film’s biggest stars, though I’m surprised there wasn’t more that involved Zoe Saldana considering she’s one of the fastest-rising female stars of the moment after her turns in Star Trek and Avatar and the upcoming The Losers.

Overall

Because I was such a big fan of the original movie’s campaign – and later the movie itself – I can’t help but feel like this one comes up a little bit short objectively. But the marketing does work for what it’s trying to accomplish, which is appeal to a more American audience than the original was targeted at. So the campaign is structured to make the case as an outlet for Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence’s humor, which has a sizable fan base. It’s successful in making that case just as the original’s campaign was successful in appealing to fans of dry British humor as channeled through the directorial lens of Frank Oz. So to this one says the comedy is going to be broader and channeled through the lens of Labute.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 4/15/10: The movie’s potential for crossover into, to put it frankly, white audiences got discussed a bit by the LAT as well as just what the hell Neil Labute is doing directing a slapstick comedy when his previous films and plays have all been quite a bit darker.
  • 4/15/10: Similar territory in regards to audience crossover are brought up by IFC’s Indie Eye, but this time in the context of the supposed “post race” Obama-led America we’re now living in.

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