Reviews

Music Is Important in 'All My Friends are Funeral Singers' and One of Its Few Redeeming Qualities

Set to the Califone album of the same name, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers bores even while it confuses. Drama class acting and a melodramatic script weaken a thought-provoking soundtrack.


All My Friends are Funeral Singers

Director: Tim Rutili
Cast: Angela Bettis, Tim Rutili, Joe Adamik, Jim Becker
Distributor: IndiePix
Release Date: 2010-05-25

Unlike vampires, which have of late enjoyed a rabid resurgence in pop culture, ghosts have been relegated to the occasional foreign flick (The Orphanage) or mediocre syndication (Medium, The Ghost Whisperer). As a self-proclaimed ghost lover (I’ve been known to voluntarily subject myself to Ghost Hunter marathons on the Syfy channel), I was intrigued by All My Friends are Funeral Singers. Very simply, the movie is about a psychic Zel (Angela Bettis) who lives with a crew of musical ghosts. Aside from her tarot clients, Zel has very little contact with the living world.

All My Friends are Funeral Singers starts out promisingly enough: we learn about the ghosts through snippets of interviews conducted documentary style. (We never learn who’s conducting said interviews, which is a problem, but a minor issue compared to some of the film’s other downfalls). The first ghosts we meet are a couple named Karen and Julius; Karen wears a wedding dress and veil. Julius says “Heaven will be like a million orgasms at once”. Karen pauses before responding. “See, I don’t get that”. Funeral Singers has a few moments of sparkling dialogue, but suffers from poor writing, weak acting, and a disjointed, confusing, and generally uninteresting plot.

Music is an important part of All My Friends are Funeral Singers, and one of its few redeeming qualities. The film shares a title with the latest offering from the band Califone, a group highly praised in indie rock circles for their bluesy/folksy banjo riffs and found-object percussion. Band member Tim Rutili also directed. The film went on tour with the band in 2009, and was screened before or after shows. For fans of Califone, this may have made the film accessible, enjoyable even.

After all, All My Friends are Funeral Singers has a decent soundtrack. The album is, by turns, dreamy and grating – appropriate music for a film about ghosts, the afterlife, and things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, the film seems haphazardly built around the album and cannot stand on its own. The more musical members of Zel’s ghostly household jam in an empty room for no apparent reason, and don’t really talk. The ghosts who do talk tell us about their deaths in an interview style, which is problematic for several reasons: Why are the ghosts being interviewed? By whom? Certainly not Zel, who takes their presence for granted. Some of the film’s better lines (the bride revealing she hung herself with her something blue) come out of the death interviews, but overall, they are uninspired. The ghosts’ stories of their deaths come across as high school drama class monologues – over acted, way too long, and somewhat pointless.

Zel’s own metaphysical journey is predictable. She isolates herself from the living, and by confining her social and familial interactions to relationships with the dead, effectively prevents herself from living any “real” life. About halfway through the story, the ghosts become preoccupied by a bright light gleaming in the woods beyond Zel’s house. The ghosts assume this is the afterlife or God, and curse Zel for keeping them in worldly confines. Only little Nyla, a small, silent, and undeniably creepy blond child wants to stay with Zel. The story is further unaided by the lackluster living characters peppered throughout the film: there’s Zel’s ho-hum boyfriend Ted; Alan, a half-crazed gambler who uses Zel’s psychic services after seeing her sign on the street; and a middle-aged woman who brings Zel home-cooked meals in exchange for speaking to her dead, cantankerous husband through the vessel of Zel.

Funeral Singers clocks in at 83-minutes, but feels eons longer. Many of the film’s secrets and conception of what it means to be alive, dead, and in between are revealed in an 11th hour discovery of a letter left for Zel by her deceased grandmother. This sloppy and didactic storytelling is in accordance with the rest of the film’s overwrought screenplay. With a wholly different script, the low budget production (grainy picture, Zel’s ramshackle house and patchwork sets) might have been an asset to the film, giving it an authentic quality in concert with Califone’s eccentric, homespun melodies. With a story this unrealized, though, audiophiles are better off skipping the visual component of All My Friends are Funeral Singers and going straight to the record.

The special features section of All My Friends are Funeral Singers showcases two Califone music videos ("Funeral Singers" and "Polish Girls"), which are reminiscent of the film itself, but without the bad acting. Three additional ghost interviews prolong the misery of the worst parts of the film. Two featurettes, Paper Shoes and Joe’s Ear extend the ghostly preoccupations of the main attraction. Both are short wordless films which feature the ghosts in dreamy reverie, and showcase the music of Califone.

2
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.