So much of Blithe Spirit‘s ingredients point to signs of a tasty meal, and yet one can’t help but feel entirely ready to return this flavourless chaff to the kitchen within minutes of its arrival.
Adapted from Noel Coward‘s 1941 play and boasting the appealing quartet of Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher and Judi Dench at its core, the charisma and comedic flare we’d expect is missing in action, with the film failing to recover from its flat prologue.
To be fair, Mann’s presence as the lusty Elvira, a blonde bombshell with a penchant for cruel theatrics, is the one saving grace of Edward Hall‘s misguided farce, but by the time she is conjured on screen it’s already too little too late. I say conjured too because the feisty lass happens to be dead, and it would appear entirely an accident on behalf of Madame Arcati’s (Dench) “skills” as a mystic that she’s resurrected, so to speak; following public humiliation at a performance that essentially reveals her tricks, Elvira’s novelist ex-husband, Charles Condomine (Stevens), and his new wife, Ruth (Fisher), invite Madame Arcati to their home as a light prank, only for her actual power to be revealed.
With Charles the only one who can see Elvira there’s natural hijinks at play, but the Nick Moorcraft/Meg Leonard/Piers Ashworth-written script fails to make any of it remotely original or even funny. There’s sex, drugs, and murder peppered throughout, and yet so little of it feels dangerous. The film’s underlying nasty spirit isn’t remotely earned, nor is it committed to in the manner a story such as this deserves; watching this makes you yearn for the 30-year-old broad comedic stylings of Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in the black comedy farce Death Becomes Her, a film that actually knew how to make the afterlife a hoot.
Given that Dench has proven her worth as a comedic talent, Fisher can play the confused ditz in her sleep, and Stevens is practically carving out a career filled to the brim with eccentric characters, it makes their lifeless turns here all the more saddening, none of them able to find a grounding note in the buffoonery which, in turn, adds to the film’s false personality.
Whilst occasionally an attractive film to behold – the period clothing and elaborate sets are aesthetically pleasing – Hall has sadly misfired on all other surrounding cylinders. Not even able to be redeemed by Mann’s tonal vibrancy, Blithe Spirit is one visitor you’ll be summoning the Gods to return to its resting space.
ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Blithe Spirit will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in Australia from April 2nd, 2021.