(1984)3Craig ButlerComedy doesn't always travel well, as the cultural signposts that inspire laughter in one country may not resonate in another. A Private Function is in some ways very British, but audiences outside that country should still find a great deal to enjoy in this off-kilter comedy which alternates between droll quaintness and acerbic harshness, between refinement and extremely low humor. Alan Bennett's screenplay has a great many funny lines; more importantly, it understands that humor is best when it derives from character, so that most of the laughs come from context rather than from jokes. Malcolm Mowbray has directed the film with a nice combination of enthusiasm and restraint, although he sometimes chooses the wrong mode at the wrong time. His cast is superb, starting with Maggie Smith in high-comic dudgeon as she makes her petty character into a veritable Lady MacBeth. Smith, who has worked with Bennett numerous times, seems to have a special affinity for his style of writing. Michael Palin, with his bizarre form of vulnerability, is a great match for her. As the dotty mother, Liz Smith steals several scenes, a considerable feat under the circumstances, and Denholm Elliott's doctor is a treat. While the film doesn't quite achieve the lunatic payoff it seems to promise, it's a pleasingly deranged way to pass the time.