The Death of Stalin
Starring Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale and Jason Isaacs
20 million people killed in the span of twenty-four-years. Under USSR Dictator Joseph Stalin’s reign from 1929 to 1953, these people were killed by famine, imprisonment in gulags, executions, massacres and battle.
When Stalin finally plopped in 1953, someone had to fill in those dictator boots. Even though Stalin was seventy-four when he died, the dictatorship did not have a clear plan as to how he would be replaced.
Thus, a power-struggle ensued among his cabinet members. The two main factions of his cabinet who quarrelled over the dictatorship were divided by statesmen Nikita Khrushchev, played by Steve Buscemi, and Lavrentiy Beria, played by Simon Russell Beale.
Marketed as an outrageous comedy that pokes fun at a dark figure and critical time in history, director Armando Iannucci fails to push boundaries.
If you watch the trailer for The Death of Stalin, it seems like one of the funniest flicks of the year so far. There’s overblown orchestral music playing in the background, outlandish jokes being cracked and a critic’s remarks every five seconds saying how “hilarious” it is.
However, I maybe laughed once, possibly twice throughout the nearly two hour film.
At first, it sets the tone to be a racuas comedy. There’s a scene where Stalin calls audio recorders at a theater and requests a recording of the night’s orchestra performance in an hour.
The two audio recorders mistakenly forget to record the performance, so they have to start it all over again because if Stalin doesn’t get the recording, everyone in the room will be executed. Laughter ensues when the recorders have to round up peasants from the street to assemble a decent crowd for applause and the conductor of the symphony is knocked out by a bucket.
Iannucci shows promise right from the jump that The Death of Stalin will be ridiculous fun, but the iron curtain falls from there.
A majority of this film explores the fallout after Stalin’s death through a bunch of meetings with a few punchlines, so it’s more informative than comedic. The subject material sounds fascinating, but when it’s marketed with bombastic humor, I want to laugh.
I don’t want to sit through meetings, make an effort to understand what people are whispering to each other, or try to follow an overly complicated plot; I just want some jokes! It’s supposed to be a comedy, so be a comedy!
Take a look at the cast of actors. Steve Buscemi, the guy who voiced and looks like Randall from Monsters Inc., plays Nikita Khrushchev, a Russian statesman who said, “we will bury you” to Western ambassadors at a reception in a Polish embassy.
On the other hand, we have Jeffrey Tambour, known for his role as the witty George Bluth Sr. from Arrested Development, who plays Stalin’s successor Georgy Malenkov. With these funny actors and others, how did I barely laugh?
It’s mainly because Iannucci gets too caught up in the plot. The director doesn’t make crude jokes or ventures into controversial territory.
If someone like Mel Brooks, the director of great comedies such as Blazing Saddles and The Producers, were to take on this film, I’m sure I’d roll down the theater stairs from laughing. Brooks was known for making parodies out of serious subjects while making audiences laugh and step out of their comfort zone.
Unfortunately, Iannucci wastes the talented comedic cast by cracking dry jokes and getting too carried away with the seriousness of the subject. With all the terrible events in history like Stalin’s reign, comedy is supposed to make us stronger.
By laughing at strongmen from the past or present, it cures us of fear. Comedy has the power to take an event or controversial figure and laugh in its face.
The actions of strongmen or tragic past events don’t want us to chuckle at them, but laughter signifies moving on. When we can laugh at something, not only do we diminish the power of that big scary thing, but we’re starting to leave it behind.
Iannucci had the opportunity to use comedy for this controversial topic, but didn’t use it towards its strongest powers. Maybe if you kick back a few glasses of vodka, that power of comedy could eventually sink in.
IMAGE TAKEN from mysanantonio.com