As a writer, I gravitate toward films about writers. Part of the reason is because most of them deal with how writers deal with the challenges of writer’s block and how they overcome it. Whether it’s a comedy like Throw Momma From the Train, or existential meta-fiction like Adaptation, the heroes journey for these characters is finding their muse and getting out of their own way in order to write that next great novel. It’s in all writers who struggle to find words to fill those terrifying blank pages and away from the mountain of procrastination we tend to build around us in order to avoid it all together. Blithe Spirit is the second film to come out this month that dives into the turmoil of the writer as he (or she) discovers their muse in an unorthodox way.
Based on the play (and the 1945 film) of the same name by Noël Coward, Spirit follows Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens), a well-renowned writer who has been commissioned to write the screenplay for his first novel. No matter how hard he tries, the words just won’t come to him. It isn’t until he and his second wife, Ruth (Isla Fisher), go to a show featuring a medium (Dame Judi Dench) that Charles is able to gain some inspiration for his grand idea. He decides to invite the medium over for a seance so he can discover the inner workings of the craft and use it as the catalyst for his screenplay. What he initially believes is a complete fraud actually turns out to be real when she accidentally conjures the spirit of Charles’s first wife, Elvira (Leslie Mann), who has been dead for five years.
After the initial shock of Elvira’s sudden reappearance wears off, Charles finds the words he’s been desperately looking for. It turns out that Elvira was his muse the whole time he was publishing best-selling book after best-selling book. Without her, he had nothing left in the proverbial tank. As he spends more and more time with Elvira as he writes his screenplay, Ruth does all she can to find a way to get rid of the home-wrecking
All three main leads are great in their respective roles, especially as more comes out behind the truth to Charles’s writing and his connection with Elvira. Mann brings a nice touch of bitchiness while Fisher spends most of her time as a reluctant second fiddle. In the middle of it all is Stevens, who brings just enough quirk to the bumbling writer to make the sudden “outbursts” he exhibits when asking Elvira to leave him alone in various ways fit right into the world that’s being developed. Anytime Charles and Elvira squabble whilst in the presence of other people, in fact, is the best way for writers Nick Moorcraft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth to play with some light and gleeful banter while adding just enough character to each one as to keep them grounded in reality.
Where the movie lacked a bit was in explaining Elvira’s abilities. For the majority of the movie, she is able to move objects around, play the piano, and even drive a car, but the ability to touch Charles is essentially off-limits. I do believe they explain this phenomenon at one point, but it feels more as if it’s in passing as opposed to something we should be aware of, and that hurts the credibility of everything else Elvira is able to accomplish throughout the film. I also felt that Dench was a bit underutilized as the disgraced medium, whose own powers and abilities are also used for comic effect instead of giving them true purpose.
I wasn’t quite sure where the movie was headed by the time it reached the end of the second act, and as Charles might say, the second act turn (otherwise known as the shift into the third act) is a bit abrupt; at least it does take a dramatic turn I didn’t see coming. This would have been more shocking and fit even better had the third act itself took itself as “seriously” as the rest of the movie. By that I mean, there is some terrific comic tension in the first two-thirds of the film with some great comic timing, but by the time we reach the third act, we’ve somehow devolved into a piece of slapstick silliness.
Unlike The Right One, which felt more degrading and tactless in the way the writer finds her muse, Blithe Spirit has a lot of fun with a writer dealing with writer’s block and using the supernatural to find his muse. If the third act would have matched the tone of the first two thirds of the film, the movie would have been in perfect tune with the lighthearted fantasy of the script.
My Grade: B+
Tom and Jerry may have been better if it didn’t feel as if the title characters were nothing but guest stars in their own movie; Chloe Grace Moretz is once again great as a grifter who worms her way into a hotel job, but as this plot takes more screen time than anything to do with the cat and mouse duo, I have to wonder if this wasn’t a completely different script that someone adapted to include Tom, Jerry and all of their cartoon animal friends. Listen to my full (SPOILER) review of Tom and Jerry on Ramblin’ Reviews: B+
Next week, new movies include Raya and the Last Dragon, Chaos Walking, Boogie and Coming 2 America (Amazon Prime). If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.