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Film Review: “Blithe Spirit” Wrestles with Nuanced Cinematic Conventions and Theatrical Roots

Written by: Adam Vaughn | February 18th, 2021

Film poster: “Blithe Spirit”

Blithe Spirit (Edward Hall, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.

There is often much anticipation in seeing a renowned work of theater make its way to the big screen (or in our current environment, the “small screen”), and any longtime friend of the stage will recall Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit as a classic comedy of the early 1940s. Now, director Edward Hall (Restless) brings us Blithe Spirit, the newest adaption of the tale of failing writer Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens, The Rental). Our hapless hero accidentally summons the spirit of his first wife Elvira (Leslie Mann, Blockers), who proceeds to incite chaos upon the man and his current wife, Ruth (Isla Fisher, The Beach Bum).

Hall’s adaptation surely rings true to its period-piece roots in several aspects, which is definitely the film’s strongest element. The movie is well cast, with decent enough performances by the principals, though nothing stands out as truly memorable. It doesn’t help either that, at times, either the original lines from the stage script don’t land with the same effect on screen, or director Hall’s additions to the story seem a bit out of place and/or cheesy. The film does a fine job with its ‘30s-‘40s era in both costuming and production design, with the exception of the Condomine residence, which oddly looks too modern.

l-r: Isla Fisher and Dan Stevens in BLITHE SPIRIT ©IFC Films

Blithe Spirit seems to take a certain inspiration from the 2013 version of Great Gatsby, yet without the same strength in aesthetic and pacing. Many sequences of the film appear as if the content of the play was copied and pasted into the screenplay, and certain cinematic conventions – Elvira’s “ghostly” abilities and the editing techniques that accompany it are but one example – lose their luster after repetitive use. In the end, Blithe Spirit hits us with multiple unintroduced themes that attempt to conclude the film quite abruptly, and with very little effect.

As the latest iteration of the story, made for a new generation, Blithe Spirit serves its purpose of telling a hilarious and ironic tale of a love triangle gone chaotically and comically wrong. For viewers well aware of the classic play, very little is left to be admired in performance, aesthetic or storytelling. While the slapstick-meets-period-piece style of Edward Hall’s film delivers adequate laughs and often clever entertainment, there is no consequential moment in Blithe Spirit that will leave the viewer with a fond, lasting memory.

l-r: Leslie Mann and Dan Stevens in BLITHE SPIRIT ©IFC Films
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Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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