“Blithe Spirit” is a film that has all the makings of a great comedy.
Its story is promising, it has an excellent cast and overall “Blithe Spirit” strikes a perfectly corny tone that should make for a very enjoyable time at the movies. However, in execution, the film fails to bring all of these pieces together to make for the hearty experience it should be.
The film, which opens at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center this Friday, is not horrible nor offensive by any means. It just doesn’t possess the spirit and energy necessary to make it memorable.
“Blithe Spirit” is the feature film debut of English director Edward Hall, who has worked on the popular British television series “Downton Abbey.” The cast Hall assembled for his debut is impressive; it features the likes of Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann and Judi Dench.
The film itself is a bit of a supernatural comedy. It centers around a popular 20th century author named Charles Condomine (Stevens) who, after inviting a medium (Dench) to hold a seance in his house to entertain his friends, is surprised to see his ex-wife Elvira’s spirit (Mann) has been brought back from the afterlife. What makes this situation awkward is that Charles has already moved on; he’s in the process of planning an elaborate party to celebrate his fifth wedding anniversary with his second wife, Ruth (Fisher). This strange supernatural love triangle leads to all sorts of hijinks, and boom — we have a movie.
What makes “Blithe Spirit” so forgettable is that it doesn’t really leave the audience with anything to talk about. There’s really no terribly exciting sequences or unexpected twists. Everything plays out about exactly how you would expect. Even staying within the confines of audience expectations, the film still manages to disappoint as it never fully commits to any of its story threads. There are a lot of interesting ideas in the film that just aren’t explored as much as they could’ve been.
For example, predictably there’s a point in the film where the ghostly ex-wife Elvira decides she doesn’t like that Charles is married again. Elvira would rather Charles kick his wife Ruth out of the picture so she can have him to herself. He doesn’t want to do that, so she starts haunting Charles and Ruth. Elvira puts them in danger a few times, but then she’s just suddenly fine. She doesn’t really care anymore and just wants to go back to being dead. This narrative line generally makes sense, but I can’t help but feel that more could’ve been done with it. The thread is introduced, and then just as soon as it started it was gone.
Sudden story decisions like this happen a few times throughout the film, and they’re always a little jarring. Each time they happen, the result only makes the film feel as if it’s just suddenly deciding to be something different than what it was previously. One could say this would keep the audience on their toes, but in reality it feels like the movie suffers from a lack of identity and reason.
I don’t know what else to say about “Blithe Spirit.” The cast did the best they could with the material provided, but they’re not enough to hold the film up. There were a few bits here and there that made me chuckle in the theater, but ultimately they were just as weightless and immaterial as a ghost, causing the movie to just pass through them as if nothing happened.