During these disturbing times of political discourse I was sure that comedy was dead, especially political humor. It's hard to laugh, not to mention, we are living in a period where stupidity has become acceptable. A time where the president of the United States doesn’t know the difference between 'their' and 'there', or that Alec Baldwin's name isn't Alex, or that our eyes can clearly see that one inauguration crowd size is bigger than the other. The things we typically would find funny are now just extremely sad. And then Veep writer/director Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin made its way into my life. This is a laugh-out-loud satire, ironically about one of the most brutal dictators in history- Joseph Stalin, and the collection of cronies that surrounded him in the survival for political power. It may be early, but The Death of Stalin is easily the funniest movie of the year.  

The Death of Stalin

It begins with a scene at the Moscow Orchestra, playing a beautiful rendition of Mozart, lead by the piano of Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), broadcasted live to all on Radio Moscow. As soon as they finish, Stalin himself calls up the station, asking for a recording of tonights performance. Whoops! They were not recording...which sends the programmer (played hilariously by Paddy Considine) scrambling, recalling everyone outside in the audience to go back inside and repeat exactly what they just did. A new conductor is called in, wearing his robe and slippers, homeless people from the street now sit in the audience, the music is recorded, and Maria Yudina finds a way to slip a poisonous note to supreme leader Stalin resulting in his abrupt death. And now the vultures will swarm.

That entire sequence, and everything else that follows in The Death of Stalin, recalls a mixture of Mel Brooks' History of the World, with Stanley Kubirck's Dr. Strangelove. This is a near perfect comedy of silly humor and brilliant writing from Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows. It gels together because of a stellar cast of actors that includes, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Andrea Riseborough, Jason Isaacs, and Steve Buscemi, who above all, delivers the best performance of the group. Each actor is dressed in their Soviet Union military gear, unrecognizable makeup, and (purposefully) keeping their thick American accents. It's poking fun at the serious demeanor of typical Hollywood history buff cinema (cough* cough* Darkest Hour) while making it all look quite authentic.

The remainder of the comical drama stems from a constant pushing and shoving match between each member to gain power. Buscemi's Nikita Khrushchev jockeys for position at Stalin's funeral, standing directly in front of the coffin, while Tambor's Malenkov is often kept saddled with the burden of babysitting Stalin's alcoholic son (Rupert Friend) and manic daughter (Riseborough). Each player would stab the other in the back if it meant for a chance to be the successor to the dictators ruthless power. Some are not as smart as the others, some are two steps ahead, and a repeating joke where everyone accidentally kneels in a puddle of Stalin's urine will have you keeling over with laughter.

There's a lot to praise about in The Death of Stalin, a movie that was banned in Russia, claiming that it was “offensive”, which should entice audiences even more to go see it. There is much more I am forgetting to talk about, but you should see it all for yourself. If there are any qualms that I had, it would just be that some moments seem to take shifts of darker tones, which felt slightly out of place. Other than that, director Armando Iannucci has made a film that might be one of the funniest movies in the past ten years, right up there with Taika Waititi's What We Do in the Shadows. The Death of Stalin is side splitting good political humor.


Written by: Leo Brady