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Film Review: Blithe Spirit (2021)

IMDb Link: Blithe Spirit (2020)
Director: Edward Hall
Writers: Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft
Starring: Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann, Judi Dench
Based on: Blithe Spirit (the play) by Noël Coward

Synopsis: A spiritualist medium holds a seance for a writer suffering from writer’s block but accidentally summons the spirit of his deceased first wife, which leads to an increasingly complex love triangle with his current wife of five years.

This is a film of wasted potential. The cast for this film is of high-quality, and most of them do as much as they can with the material they are given. Dan Stevens gives it all as the writer, Charles, who ends up going insane throughout the film. He also has great chemisty with Leslie Mann, who plays his ex-wife Elvira and is easily the stand-out of this cast, stealing every scene she appears in. Judi Dench is not given as much to do but is charming, and Isla Fisher is sadly left with little to do as Charles’ current wife, fighting for screen-time between Stevens and Mann.

There are many design elements that I really adored about this film and the 1930s aesthetic within the story. The costumes and make-up work is spot on, being a bit campy but glamourous and suiting the quirky nature of the story. The production design, particularly the main house of Charles and his wife, is spectacular and allows for the story to have fun with the different locations, both in the interior and exterior.

Whilst I trust that the story is good from the source material, and in fairness the premise is intriguing, there is no pacing with this film at all, making the story less compelling. The first act does a solid job setting up the premise, but the set-up drags on for a majority of the second half as little happens to move the story along. In contrast, the plot finally moves along by the final 20-minutes in what is a compelling narrative, but is completely rushed and needs an extra 30-40 minutes to expand on that ending. It’s a wonderful concept, but it given no time to flesh out or to have fun with the gimmick of the film.

This is a film that is filled with humour, but there were stretches of time that I was struggling to laugh at any of the jokes. There are specific jokes that play out numerous times, and it’s painful to watch when I didn’t even laugh at the joke the first time it played out. Some of the moments of humour are forced, coming off as over-the-top and having an impact on the narrative and pacing, rather than helping the tone.

I wish they took this film in a much darker tone than they did. They hint at some moments, particularly in the final third, where the situation gets more serious and there are real implications to the seance that brings the ex-wife back from the dead. However, these moments only exist for a minute before another joke tries to lighten up the mood, something that did not fit narratively and taking away from what could have been some excellent scenes within the film.

Whilst this film is not a complete trainwreck and there are some things to admire throughout, I was left disappointed by the final product. This could have been a great film, given the cast, the story, and the art direction that can already be seen in this product. The script, unfortunately, lets down some of the cast with the characters, the plot wear thin and a rushed ending that could have been a solid plotline within itself. Whilst it was pushed back from earlier on in 2020, this feels like a disappointing and bland January release like it ended up being.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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