Undertaking Betty (2002)

“I want to go somewhere hot and sticky.”

The small Welsh town of Wrottin-Powys is a veritable passion pit of illicit intrigue, desire and competing funeral homes. Funeral home owner, Boris Plots (Alfred Molina) nurses an unrequited love for married childhood sweetheart, mousy Betty Rhys-Jones (Brenda Blethyn), and when in middle age, Betty and Boris are thrown together by circumstance, all their old longings resurface. Boris plans some drastic measures to possess Betty forever, and meanwhile Betty’s philandering husband Hugh (Robert Pugh) and rapacious vinyl clad mistress Meredith (Naomi Watts) plot ways to dispose of Betty permanently.

While Boris’s plans almost collide disastrously with those plans of disposal harbored by her cheating hubbie, it’s rival funeral home owner Frank Featherbed (Christopher Walken with particularly bizarre hair) who really throws a wrench in the plans. Wrottin Powys is too small a town for both funeral homes, and Frank has concocted numerous bizarre plans to increase his business. His latest idea is theme-based funerals, and he likes to remind his assistant that the root word of ‘funeral’ is fun. With tacky, showy funerals, coupons and discounts, Frank Featherbed’s goal is to be the only funeral home in town.

Undertaking Betty (AKA Plots With a View) tries hard to be funny, but the film fails in significant portions. The story doesn’t try to be reasonably realistic, and goes for over-the-top improbable comedy, and of course, this can be all right if it works. The main plot–Boris and Betty’s romance–blends with the subplot involving Frank Featherbed. The sections between Boris and Betty are dull–in spite of the fact that their romance is peppered with escapist/fantasy Hollywoodesque musical numbers. Apparently Boris and Betty have a thing for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers style numbers. Basically Boris and Betty are mousy, boring and stodgy characters–Boris constantly and annoyingly calls Betty by her complete name: “I love you, Betty Rhys-Jones”–and unfortunately their romance just can’t sparkle enough to keep the film interesting.

Undertaking Betty, directed by Nick Hurran comes alive in the sections involving Frank Featherbed, and these scenes were truly hilarious. Walken fans will want to watch the film, and then find they long for his next scene. As usual, he steals the film, and in the case of Undertaking Betty, his characterization is so strong, the subplot is better than the main plot.

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Filed under British, Comedy

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