Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Movie Log: Ghost Town

My current earworm: dis town is coming like a ghost town. It has nothing at all to do with the movie, and I can't even remember what reggae song it came from -- Google, hear my plea! Aha! I think it's the Specials -- but it's stuck in my head, and I remembered it because of this movie, so I'll pass it along to your head in hopes that helps.

So. Ghost Town. A Ricky Gervais vehicle, evidently not as successful in its first week as its makers had intended. I'd taken a day off on Friday (just because) and so The Wife and I had a middle-of-the-day "date" while the kids were in school, to see this movie and go out to lunch. It does have the requisite high concept, and follows the precise arc required for a commercial movie these days, but manages to carve out a space for itself through clever dialogue and (particularly) Gervais.

Gervais is a British dentist now living in New York, and a confirmed misanthrope. His job means that most of the people he deals with on a daily basis can't speak to him, and he prefers it that way. He's not a horrible man, but he is a prickly jerk, and there's no reason for him to change. But then he goes into the hospital for a colonoscopy -- and has complete anesthesia, since he says there's no way he's going to be awake while they do that -- and comes out of it the day afterward with a clean bill of health and the ability to see ghosts. (It turns out, a bit later, that he died for seven minutes during the procedure, which is evidently what triggered the ghost-seeing.)

New York is full of ghosts, all people who left something undone, and once they realize Gervais can see him, they besiege him with their demands. (Well, they besiege him in a quiet, respectful way, and are easily driven away when the plot requires it.) The lead ghost is played by Greg Kinnear, whose widow, Tea Leoni, lives downstairs from Gervais.

Kinnear thinks he needs to stop Leoni from marrying her new boyfriend, and tells Gervais that he can keep all of the other ghosts away if Gervais helps him. Gervais doesn't want to help anyone, and has a bad relationship with Leoni to the extent that he even knows she exists, but he finally agrees.

Gervais of course soon falls in love with Leoni -- can you blame him? -- and she comes to first stand him, then like him, and then, maybe, even care for him. But then the plot engines surge onward, into crises both false and real, and the inevitable significant montage. (Parenthetically, do you know the difference between sentiment and true emotion? Sentiment is cheap and tawdry and only affects those idiots. True emotion comes from the deep wellsprings of character and makes me mist up. I'm not going to tell you which description pertains to Ghost Town's significant montage, but it might blow my cover as a tough guy.)

Ghost Town is a romantic comedy, and I wouldn't dream of giving away the ending, but...you pretty much know what it is already, right? (One of the main reasons of going to a movie like this is to get that ending, as long as it's earned.)

I found Ghost Town very funny and quite charming; Gervais in particular is at least amusing every second he's on screen. And Kinnear is a good and subtle actor, though he does seem to play basically the same character all of the time now. Ghost Town doesn't seem to be doing a lot of business out in theaters, which is a shame -- it's a standard Hollywood entertainment, but it does everything right and is a fine example of its genre.

1 comment:

Jon Barnard said...

The song is indeed by The Specials and is called, appropriately enough, 'Ghost Town'. Here it is on Youtube.

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