Tag Archives: D

BLITHE SPIRIT

Producers: James Spring, Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard, Peter Snell, Toni Pinnolis, Adrian Politowski, Martin Metz and Hilary Bevan Jones   Director: Edward Hall   Screenplay: Nick Moorcraft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth   Cast: Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher, Judi Dench, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Emilia Fox, Simon Kunz, Adil Ray and Michele Dotrice   Distributor: IFC Films

Grade: D

It would be hard to imagine a more dispiriting adaptation of Noël Coward’s 1941 play, which was made into a scintillating film by David Lean four years later, than this cloddish misfire.  An apt comparison would be to Oliver Parker’s dreadful 2002 manhandling of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” even if Coward’s work is hardly the equal of Oscar Wilde’s.

To begin with what’s good here: the visuals are gaudy but impressive, in an extravagant way.  The film is set in 1937 England, and the immaculate grounds, elegant interiors, smashing costumes and elaborate sets are testimony to the effects of the crafts crew—production designer John Paul Kelly, art directors John McHugh and Keith Slote, set decorator Caroline Smith and costume designer Charlotte Walter. Ed Wild’s widescreen cinematography brings out the lusciousness of their work.

A pity it’s wasted on an adaptation of the play that botches everything.  Coward’s basic premise remains intact: writer Charles Condomine contacts medium Madame Arcati for material he intends to use on spiritualists, despite the doubts of his wife Ruth.  Arcati’s séance results in the ghostly return of Charles’ first wife Elvira.  Much trouble ensues, Ruth winds up dead too, and she and Elvira avenge themselves on their egotistical common husband.

Here Charles is not just a mystery novelist, but a would-be screenwriter tasked with adapting one of his books for production by Ruth’s father.  For some reason he’s afflicted with a terrible case of writers block, solved—he thinks—when he and Ruth attend a performance by Madame Arcati which goes badly indeed, when a contraption designed to levitate her breaks and she falls into the theatre’s orchestra pit.  Still Charles arranges for Arcati to give the séance, which returns Elvira to the scene and leads to mayhem.

But while Coward’s play and Lean’s film of it were breezy and witty, this rewritten version is weighed down by drab dialogue and crude slapstick.  Edward Hall’s direction is heavy-handed, and the cast respond with performances that are forced and unfunny.  Dan Stevens is the worst offender as Charles, mugging as though he were trying to mimic Jerry Lewis; the comparison to Rex Harrison, in the Lean film, is invidious indeed.  Both Leslie Mann and Isla Fisher play things much too broadly as Elvira and Ruth as well, but pale beside Stevens.

Then there’s Judi Dench, a superb actress to be sure but miscast as Madame Arcati.  The character has been radically altered to suit her; she’s no longer the exuberant enthusiast so wonderfully played by Margaret Rutherford under Lean, but a tired old has-been huckster still pining over the husband she lost in World War I.  And her effort to find a way to cast Elvira back into the void involves a tired visit to the head of a spiritualist organization and an elaborate ritual that seems like something out of a road company “Macbeth” (or maybe “Hocus Pocus”).  Dench has played some unrewarding characters in the past, but this might be the nadir.

As for the rest of the cast, they are models of affectation, but at least the names of some of them—Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Julian Rhind-Tutt—suggest the snootiness the makers were aiming for but failed utterly to achieve.  The moviemaking subplot leads to some truly unfunny business featuring folks like Cecil M. DeMille, Greta Garbo and Alfred Hitchcock, all of them haplessly mimicked.  Paul Tothill’s editing mistakes frantic for amusing, and Simon Boswell’s score, which comments clumsily on every bit of supposedly jovial business, is intensely aggravating.                   

A single new line of dialogue in the woebegone script effectively summarizes this whole misguided venture.  At an especially uncomfortable moment near the close, Madame Arcati says, “Something has gone hideously wrong.”  Truer words were never spoken.  Luckily, there’s always Lean’s version to return to. 

THE RIGHT ONE

Producers: Geneva Wasserman, Ken Mok, Tim Marlowe, Jason Bourque and Sean Fernald   Director: Ken Mok   Screenplay: Ken Mok   Cast: Nick Thune, Cleopatra Coleman, Iliza Shlesinger, David Koechner, MJ Kokolis, Trezzo Mahoro, Lauren McGibbon and Amy Goodmurphy   Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: D

One can find a few isolated pleasures in Ken Mok’s mediocre romantic comedy-drama, but they’re fleeting, and far outnumbered by the stream of misjudgments that plague it.  “The Right One” is almost totally wrongheaded.

Cleopatra Coleman stars as Sara, a successful author who’s hit a bout of writers’ block despite the fact that her agent Kelly (Iliza Shlesinger) keeps pressuring her about the contract she has to fulfill.  It’s while searching for inspiration that she bumps into a fellow named Godfrey (Nick Thune) she finds in a whole variety of places but in different guises.

So on one occasion he’s a cowboy singer regaling some folks on the Seattle sidewalk.  Then he’s a pompous art critic booming out pronouncements at a gallery opening, or an artist explaining his work to rapt attendees.  Then he’s declaiming at a poetry dive, or singing in drag at a club.  She’s fascinated by him, and asks that they meet somewhere, and soon they’re on a date, where he’s an Argentinean dancer.  Then they’re in bed, though apparently platonic about it.

We’ve also been introduced to him at his job as a telephone sales rep, in which capacity he wears a Mohawk, dresses in wildly-colored clothes and prances around the office, which disturbs a visiting executive from Ohio named Bob (David Koechner) until he’s informed that the guy is their best salesman by far—and an aficionado of the same harmonica-playing singer the exec loves too.  In his spare time, we learn, the fellow also performs puppet shows and read books for kids at schools and libraries. 

Sara’s nonplussed but still fascinated, feelings that escalate when she’s approached by a shrill young guy, a drug dealer called Shad (MJ Kokolis), who warns her to stay away the odd fellow, claiming to be his brother.  Eventually he reveals Godfrey’s secret: he can live an ordinary life in society only in the various guises he adopts.  As himself, he’s haunted by the death of their young sister, for which he blames himself, and in a perpetual depressive state.

Now the movie, which has been a drearily unfunny romantic comedy pairing the incessantly chirpy Coleman with the desperately overbroad Thune (no Peter Sellers at adopting different personas), becomes a sappy drama after Godfrey slips into a deep funk after learning that Sara has been taking notes on him to use in writing her new book.  One might think it would take years of therapy to lift him out of it, but in this case all it takes is a cute dress-up by Sara.

One supposes this cop-out conclusion is meant to constitute a happy ending, but it comes across as not just feeble but false, though to be fair you might find these two deserve one another.  As directed by Mok, who, together with editor Asim Nuraney, allows the picture’s pace to flag all too often, both stars prove irritating rather than charming.  To make matters worse, Mok encourages his supporting cast to overdo things so shrilly that most are unendurable.  That comes naturally to Koechner, for whom understatement has always seemed a foreign concept; but it’s hard to discern the purpose of having Shlesinger scream her way through her scenes, or Kokolis do nothing but snarl and rage, or even walk-ons like Lauren McGibbon (as an office supervisor) and Amy Goodmurphy (as a publishing executive) come on so stridently—unless Mok recognized that the material he was asking them to deliver was so threadbare.

Visually “The Right One” looks like a garish TV sitcom, with Sean Kirkby’s bright production design reflected in the glossy cinematography by Graham and Nelson Talbot.  Heather Lee Douglas must have had a field day fashioning all of Godfrey’s costumes, but they can’t cover up the thinness of the script.  Ceiri Torjussen has contributed a score that’s largely forgettable, apart from when it incorporates the music of others (like the Shostakovich waltz Kubrick also employed).

“The Right One” might have worked as either a screwball comedy or a heartfelt drama about grief.  By trying to be both, it succeeds as neither.