Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Capsule Film Reviews: Ghost Town

Ghost Town, 2008, Dreamworks, Spyglass, Pariah, Directed and written by David Koepp, 102 minutes, 1:85:1

He, grumpy, self-centred, rude, and snarky, Manhattan dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) sees dead people, lots of dead people in the streets of Manhattan. He sees them because he died, if only for a few minutes, in a Manhattan hospital during surgery for a routine colonoscopy. Once the legions of Manhattan's dead discover that Bertram can see them they plead for his help. One wants Pincus's to tell his wife where their son's lost toy is. Another wants Pincus to tell her daughter where the letter she slid under the door and accidentally under the carpet is. Still another wants Pincus to tell the wife that he betrayed that the man she is involved with is only after her money.

Pincus is finally persuaded by one of the dead ghosts haunting his ever waking life, Frank (Greg Kinnear), to be the medium through which he will convince the wife, Gwen (Téa Leoni), an Egyptologist at the Metropolitan Museum, that the human rights lawyer, Richard (Billy Campbell) she is dating is only interested in her money. Slowly but surely Pincus woos Gwen with his application of dental knowledge to the her mummy problem, his humour, and his heartbreaking loves lost past. Gwen is falling for Pincus.

There is a kink in Frank's plan, however, Pincus is falling for Gwen. Frank doesn't believe that the self centred Pincus is any better for Gwen than Richard. He therefore tricks Pincus into telling Gwen that he sees dead people, including her dead husband. When Gwen asks Pincus to to prove it, to reveal to her something only Frank would know, Frank lies to Pincus and Pincus repeats the lie to Gwen. Frank's plan works. Gwen is now certain that Pincus has been cynically trying to manipulate his way into her heart and leaves telling Pincus not to call her.

Pincus, hopelessly in love with Gwen, makes one last attempt to convince her that he really does love her. As Pincus talks to Gwen he is struck by a Manhattan bus in front of the Metropolitan. It is only Richard's quick action, he turns out not to be a bad bloke, that keeps Pincus alive.

Once recovered Pincus asks his dentist partner Prashar (Aasif Mandvi) to give him something to make him forget about Gwen. Prashar tells him that "a life not lived for others is a life not worth living". Pincus takes Prashar's advice to heart. The once misanthropic Pincus--here Ghost Town circles back to the beginning of its tale in order to set things aright this time--tells the wife of the ghost husband, who turns out to be his patient, where her son's toy is bringing happiness to mother and son. He tells the daughter of the ghost mother where the letter her mother sent her is bringing an end to a feud between sister and sister. He helps those ghosts stuck in the agony of a Manhattan purgatory to walk into the light.

Frank, even with Gwen saved from the imaginary clutches of Richard, is unable to pass through the light. Eventually he realises that it is Gwen who is holding him in Ghost Manhattan and that the only way he can walk into the light is to bring Pincus and Gwen together. So he tells Pincus his real dream. When Gwen comes to his dental office to visit dentist Prashar, Pincus reveals Frank's dream to Gwen. In yet another one of those Hollywood fairy tale happy endings Pincus and Gwen end up together thanks to a smile and Frank is freed from the purgatory of Manhattan's ghost town to walk into the light free of the jealousies and guilts that have haunted his ghostly existence. If only the cure for the bad stuff that happens to people was that easy.

Speaking of bad and good I found Ghost Town not bad. If I am looking for a tale of ghostly romance or an uplifting tale about how wonderful life is despite its real difficulties rather than fairy tale ones, however, I think I will stick with Topper (1937, Norman MacLeod) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra). Two and a half stars. By the way, what Hollywood and Ghost Town seem to be telling us about misanthropy is that lurking beneath every misanthrope is a heartbroken romantic who deals with his own pain by dishing out the snark to others. The Hollywood cure for grumpy and snarky misanthropy? The love of a good woman. Gee I wish I had known about Hollywood before I became an inveterate misanthrope beyond salvation.

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