It is amusing to see how many ways the genre of ghost/entities can be stretched: from the classic horror to a children’s story or that of a loving romance. Much like clay these stories can be shaped and shifted in any desire you wish but its end result must still be cohesive as a whole. When viewing director Edward Hall’s feature directorial debut in Blithe Spirit, I was unaware of its history. Originally written as a play by English playwright Noël Coward in 1941, it has since been adapted in numerous forms of media including radio in 1983, television in 1946/58/56, a film in 1945 and also a play renamed High Spirits that appeared on the West End of London in 1964-65 and on Broadway as well in 1964. I will admit though that even with all these previous incarnations that this is the first time having seen this story and my review is solely based on Hall’s 2020 film.
The film is filled notable stars such as Judi Dench, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher and Dan Stevens. Stevens and Fisher play the married couple of Charles and Ruth whom have their hearts set on making it big in Hollywood… with their only hurdle being Charles sudden case of writer’s block. Charles has promised Ruth’s father, a film executive, a full screenplay adapted from one of his own novels and with a deadline looming Charles is completely stumped. At the advice of his wife Charles takes in a show of a spiritual conjurer, played by Dench, hoping to find some inspiration. In a hope to get his creative juices flowing he invites Dench for a private séance but it is all for not as nothing happens or so they think; Charles’ deceased wife Elvira, played by Mann, has come back as a ghost unbeknownst to everyone but Charles. The rest of film is Charles having to deal with his new wife of five years as well as the ghost of his former wife. The film itself conjures feelings from other films such as Drop Dead Fred, Beetlejuice and Death Becomes Her.
At first Elvira presented the motivation Charles needed to write his screenplay, a matter Ruth was fine to go along with but when Elvira attempts to take Charles into the afterlife with her that is when things become messy. Messy fits for both the situation everyone is now involved as well as the film’s execution in its storytelling. Boasting strong comedic actresses as Fisher and Mann it would seem like an easy home run to have a battle of wits between these two but sadly the film’s tone flip flops to the point I was not sure what I was watching. It is sad romance between lost lovers Elvira and Charles, a wacky comedy when dealing with Elvira’s antics and us vs them mentality between Ruth/Charles vs Elvira. Among all this calamity Dench’s character just trots around as a half-witted spiritual guide with no ounce of comedic value, which in this roll presumably would have helped. The twists at the end especially did not help and they completely shifted the tone to the point I didn’t care anymore and maybe that’s how the screenwriters felt. I believe Hall would have benefited more having followed one specific path opposed to incorporating too many elements in which taking a story filled with notable stars into a dreary mud pit.
2 out of 5
Film will be available Friday 2/19