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Film Review: ‘Blithe Spirit’ is a Star-Studded and Whimsical Delight

Blithe Spirit, based on the play by Noël Coward, stars Academy Award® and BAFTA winner Judi Dench (Skyfall, Victoria & Abdul) alongside Leslie Mann (Blockers, The Comedian), Dan Stevens (Beauty & The Beast, Legion) and Isla Fisher (Greed, Nocturnal Animals). Blithe Spirit is a riotous reimagining of Noël Coward’s classic comedy, about love that just won’t die... Best-selling crime novelist Charles (Dan Stevens) is struggling with catastrophic writer’s block and a stressful deadline for his first screenplay. His picture-perfect second wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) is doing her best to keep him focussed in the hope of fulfilling her dream of heading to Hollywood. Charles’ desperate search for inspiration leads him to invite Madame Arcati (Judi Dench), a medium recently exposed as a fraud, to perform a séance in their home. They all get more than they bargained for when Arcati accidentally summons the spirit of his deceased first wife: the fiery and jealous Elvira (Leslie Mann) who embarks on a mission to kill Charles so she can spend eternity with him which leads to an increasingly comical and deadly love triangle.

Movies about ghosts and unfinished business after death are typically associated with the horror genre. People that have perished due to unfair circumstances, spirits that did not express what they wanted to when they were living and are now unable, and the bloody side effects of those tropes. What is uncommon is a movie centered on death, unfinished business, and ghosts enacting revenge that belongs in the comedy genre. Director Edward Hall has effectively created a film that fits into that rare genre perfectly.

Blithe Spirit tells the story of writer Charles, his wife Ruth, and Charles’ deceased ex-wife Elvira in the year 1937. Struggling from writer’s block, Charles examines a spiritualist medium for inspiration for a screenplay. The medium, Madame Arcati—who’s not so sure what she’s doing—accidentally summons the spirit of Elvira. Chaos ensues as Charles must face his past in the form of his dead ex, as well as fight for his future.

While the film sounds dark and serious, it is actually quite funny. The complex writing team consisting of Piers Ashworth, Noel Coward, Meg Leonard, and Nick Moorcroft have managed to create a dark comedy for the ages. In fact, the movie is based on a 1941 play of the same name that was written by Coward himself. To introduce such a dark idea such as a sudden death that has left someone a forlorn widow and spin it on its head to make it laughable is no easy feat, so props are given to this exemplary writing team.

Dan Stevens rarely disappoints with his out-there performances, and his role of Charles is no different. The actor truly embraces the wilder, funny moments that the movie has to offer, and it pays off. Stevens is often the comic relief of the film, and he should be applauded for putting his all into Blithe Spirit. Stevens is simply enjoyable throughout the film, even when Charles is not showing his best attributes.

Isla Fisher, who plays Ruth, also gives one of her most memorable comedic performances to date. Fisher shows her comedic genius in a scene involving a fountain and champagne, which audiences are sure to love. This performance will leave viewers wanting more entertaining works from Fisher, which she is sure to deliver.

Actress Leslie Mann portrays Elvira, and while she does a good job, it won’t be remembered as one of her strongest roles. While she incites both laughter and frustration through her acting, it’s difficult not to think that Mann simply does better in films that blend real-life issues with comedy, such as her prior works with her husband, Judd Apatow.

After decades of impressive performances, Judi Dench once again delivers memorable acting. Portraying Madame Arcati: an intricate, complicated, and flawed medium with a sad backstory, Dench is right in her element. She adds a sense of humanity to the film when her character’s life is examined, as well as lighthearted humor through her faux spiritual work. Dench, Stevens, and Fisher as well as their acting styles blend artfully together in this picture.

This is the first feature film for director Edward Hall. Previously, Hall has dabbled in television series such as Downton Abbey and Kingdom among others. Taking this into consideration, this is a great start for Hall in the movie realm. Throughout Blithe Spirit, it feels like there is a strong directorial presence, as all of the characters portrayals intertwine flawlessly and work off of each other. It will be interesting to see if Hall continues to craft more feature films in the future.

At times, the film feels as if it would fit in wonderfully with other quirky titles such as Moonrise Kingdom. It contains a whimsical sense of humor and creativity that is seldom successful and memorable in cinema. However, unlike Moonrise Kingdom, there are moments of Blithe Spirit that feel overdone, tedious, or draining. Overall, the picture keeps viewer’s interest, but it would not be surprising to hear that some audiences lose interest at times.

If you’d like to watch Blithe Spirit, it is available in select theaters, on digital and on demand beginning February 19, 2021. Be sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts on this unique new film!

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Kendall Tinston

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