Three’s a Crowd in Absurd Period Comedy ‘Blithe Spirit’
A writer who is blocked in more ways than one finds inspiration from the beyond in “Blithe Spirit,” a supernatural period comedy based on the 1941 play of the same name by Noël Coward. Dan Stevens stars as Charles Condomine, a self-important British writer with a string of best-selling novels under his belt. It’s been years since his last best-seller, and now he’s hitting a wall with his last project, a screenplay adapted from his own novel. With his producer, who also happens to be his father-in-law, breathing down his neck, he turns to Madame Arcati (Judi Dench), a theatrical medium, for inspiration, and the séance that ensues proves to be a little too successful.
When the story begins in 1937, handsome and wealthy Charles has been married to Ruth (Isla Fisher), a vibrant woman who takes pride in gardening and running her household, for five years. Prior to that, he was married to American Elvira (Leslie Mann) until her tragic death from a riding accident. He still looks at her picture regularly, and we come to learn that she was more than just a muse to him. In addition to his writer’s block, Charles is also suffering from erectile dysfunction, and he and Ruth’s best friends, married couple Dr. George (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and Violet Bradman (Emilia Fox), offer up misguided solutions to their bedroom problems. After the foursome witness a disastrous live show from Madame Arcati, Charles invites the old lady over, hoping to find some inspiration for his script. Predictably, he gets more than he bargained for.
The day after the séance, Elvira appears to Charles, and she’s none too pleased about the decorating changes made by her successor. Ghost Elvira is not just a figment of Charles’ imagination, because while he’s the only one who can see and hear her, others can see the results of her handiwork, such as when she defaces a portrait of Ruth with red lipstick right in front of her. While Ruth is understandably upset and disturbed by the situation, she puts up with Charles spending time with his first wife after he explains that she’s helping him finish the script. However, things get sticky when it comes out that Elvira is determined to have Charles all to herself, even if that means killing him.
Meanwhile, Madame Arcati grapples with the repercussions of her first-ever successful séance, and Dench, one of the greatest living actresses, takes the role a little too seriously than what the script calls for. Stevens, Mann and Fisher, however, fit right into this absurd world. The only problem is none of their characters are very likable, which makes it confusing as to who we’re supposed to be rooting for.
Some of the funniest moments in “Blithe Spirit” come from the obvious running gag involving Charles looking insane to onlookers during his interactions with Elvira. There are also some truly tender moments between the couple. As for Elvira, she is almost sympathetic, as she was robbed of her chance at creative success due to her sex, but shes loses the viewer when her muderous intentions come to light, although some dark humor is milked out of that development. Adding some lightness is the ample eye candy, as the film is full of beautiful period costumes and set designs that make dreary old London look rather dreamy.
“Blithe Spirit” releases Feb. 19 on VOD and in select cities.