Friday, January 02, 2009

Ghost Town

About this time of year I'm looking for a romantic comedy. Something that has a story that's a bit unusual -- you know, something we haven't seen before -- some witty repartee, people who are worth caring about. And one more thing: it goes somewhere. At the end, we feel an emotional impact. Is that too much to ask?

Comedies I've seen lately, like Bedtime Stories, are witless, amorphous nothings, with no emotional attachment. Oh, my movie review kingdom for a comedy that isn't strained and characters who are brought to life with true talent.

I think I've found it. Ghost Town is not just a good movie, but I would say one of the best of 2008. (Okay, maybe not in the top 5, but surely in the top 10.)

Bertram Pincus leads the life we all believe dentists lead: soulless, boring, people-less. He's pushed people away so effectively, they don't even bother talking to him any more, not in the office, not in the elevator of his apartment building. One day while he's receiving that dreaded colonoscopy (in a very funny sequence between Ricky Gervais' Pincus and the hospital nurse), he dies for 7 minutes. This event apparently allows him to see people who are already dead, but who are still roaming the earth trying to solve their problem.

They're persistent, these ghosts. Annoying. Worse than real people in that they can walk through walls. However, one of the ghosts, Frank (played by Greg Kinnear) enlists Pincus to help him dissuade his wife (played by Tea Leoni) of her latest boyfriend because he's a golddigger. Pincus agrees to help if Frank can get rid of the old lady who wants him to help her talk to her daughters, and the man who wants his daughter to find her lost stuffed animal, and ad infinitum.

But as familiar as this story sounds (Ghost, Groundhog Day, Sixth Sense...maybe even Topper), those elements don't tell us where this story is leading. Gervais' character seems so tic-laden, so befuddled, that he seems beyond redemption. And yet, we see the points in the story that lead precisely to that moment, and we feel it with him.

The cast is wonderful. Greg Kinnear is no longer that baby-faced lovable guy he used to always portray, but is headed toward deeper territory in his later roles. He's very effective as the irritating dead husband who may have a secret or two up his invisible sleeve. Tea Leoni is really the best I've ever seen her -- and I've always enjoyed her characterizations, even in dismal movies -- and we again laugh at her and with her whether she's knee-deep in a discussion about Egyptology or wrestling with her great Dane. And Ricky Gervais is the embodiment of the modern successful comic: true comic timing, an almost improvisational delivery (or one that feels like it), and the ability to make a visceral connection with the audience.

I don't know why no one went to see this movie when it was out in the theatres. Bad title? Bad marketing? Who knows. But it's now available on DVD, and is a masterpiece of a comedy done right.

Thumb's up.


At 1:22 PM, Blogger Dawn Kepler said...

There were tiny touches that filled out your sense of this guy. Like the little side leap he does just to avoid speaking to some do-gooder in front of his building.

I loved the twist on why ghosts hang around. Nice!


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