Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ghost Town

Forget that the story of Ghost Town is an overly-familiar Scrooge tale about a grumpy man who learns to love again with the help of a few ghosts or that the film itself often feels like a mawkish, mid-nineties romantic comedy following in the (then) successful wake of Nora Ephron films. Focus, instead, on what elevates the film from a standard but well-executed programmer to a howlingly funny film: Ricky Gervais. Viewers of the British version of The Office or Extras know that Gervais is a master at spinning comedic gold by playing sad little men, and his work in Ghost Town only further confirms this. He imbues the curmudegonly stuff with an unrelenting sweetness that belies the bruised, aching heart at the core of the character, but he also plays the lovey-dovey stuff with a cynical, aware edge. This, by itself is valuable, but doesn't even get into how delightfully, devillishly funny he is. His use of the phrase "fait accompli" when discussing the results of a laxative would, by itself, justify the cost of admission.

Gervais plays a dentist who abhors the company of others, preferring the tidiness and quiet of a secluded life. He goes in for a colonoscopy and dies for seven minutes during the procedure. After being brought back to life, he finds that he's able to see and hear the ghosts of others who have passed on, and these apparations begin to pester him to help take care of their unfinished business. He's disgusted, of course, that he has a new cadre of souls to be annoyed by, and finds that he can't isolate himself from these desperate, needy creatures as easily as he can with the living. The most persistent of these spirits is a smooth-talking, tuxedoed ghost played by Greg Kinnear. Kinnear's distrustful and jealous of his widow's new fiancee (the fiancee is a humorless bore, played admirably by Billy Campbell), and wants Gervais to break up the relationship before she is hurt again.

Things complicate when Gervais lays eyes on the woman, played by Tea Leoni. He's immediately smitten and decides the best way to break up her new relationship is to romance her himself. This would smack of convenient or even lazy plotting, but for the performances of Leoni and Gervais. Leoni, for instance, plays her character as a bit of a misfit, a morbid, goofy, and even nerdy woman. She's delivering a lecture on mummies, and the unbridled passion and obsession she evinces makes her seem like an immediate good match for the cloistered, fussy Gervais. This holds true throughout--the two have a remarkable amount of chemistry and this renders Gervais's awkward, uncomfortable attempts to woo her cute rather than spooky and her return on his affections relatable rather than perplexing.

The film was directed by David Koepp who's a Hollywood screenwriter of some note (he's credited on such little films as Spiderman, Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), and his past directorial efforts have been competent, if not exactly inspiring (Stir of Echoes and The Trigger Effect being the best of the lot). Here he's working in the same realm--a hundred little choices in this film add up to it feeling smart and sturdy for what it is, even if the film winds up feeling a little insignificant. The most inspired choice Koepp makes, though, is in giving Gervais plenty of space to do his schtick. Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis found great success by giving Bill Murray this kind of room to play in films like Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, and even lesser vehicles like Meatballs or Stripes. Koepp's generosity with Gervais's performance is the correct approach--Gervias should be (and hopefully will be) as universally celebrated for his comedic gifts as Murray is.

While the film is too cutesy and too sentimental at times, I, and the audience I saw it with, were roaring with laughter for very long stretches. The woman next to me was doubled over and gasping for air and huge swaths of dialogue went unheard due to the revelry. This is not necessarily a film for the ages, but the comedy is sweet and inviting, hilarious and honest. Mainstream comedic films have become increasingly brash and pointed over the past few years, and even something as funny as Tropic Thunder can be quite an assault on the senses. It's a nice feeling to watch something like Ghost Town, which has something of the air of a classic comedy from the 30s. It's far from squeaky clean, but it's nevertheless decent at its core. By laughing you feel a little bit better about yourself and the world around you.

Would be a good double feature with: Groundhog Day

6 comments:

Q said...

Another one I was not sure about.
After reading your critique I think I will enjoy this.
Thanks.
Sherry

Mesothelioma Cancer Treatment said...

I guess I'll look for this movie somewhere. Nice review.

Watch Movies Online said...

The Ghost Town is one of the most dangerous horror movie that i have enjoyed. What a horror movie this is! I was in fear whenever i had seen it.
Have a nice time,
Thanks

David Wester said...

I love you, Watch Movies Online.

Nasim said...

Hi David Wester,
Hmm... This is a very nice horror movie. My hart was locked at the time of enjoying "Ghost Town"
Thanks again for the nice blog job
Most probably I will enjoyed it again.
have a nice time
bye
Dog Life Jackets

free movies said...

When I read the beginning- I was a little annoyed, it seemed like you hated the movie-but then again, the finer points you make about it each scene having the same amount of...as the last is quite good....