Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 21st, 2021
The Lady of the Manor (Christian Long/Justin Long, 2021) 1 out of 4 stars.
Though populated by talented and engaging performers, one of whom is co-writer/co-director Justin Long (here making his feature debut behind the camera alongside brother Christian), The Lady of the Manor never rises above its fatuous characters and witless humor to amount to much of anything, despite the initial promise of its premise. The best parts of it can be seen in the trailer, which had enough funny moments to make me watch the full movie. And the beginning is not a disaster, so for the first 30 minutes or so it seems as maybe, just maybe, the film will (sort of) succeed. But then it doesn’t. Time wasted; move on.
We’re in Savannah, Georgia. Melanie Lynskey (Sadie) stars as Hannah, a fortysomething pothead who means no harm but does no particular good, either. When a drug delivery goes sour after she knocks on the wrong door, leading to her arrest as a child molester (don’t ask), her not-so-loyal partner dumps her and asks her to move out. That evening, as she drinks away her sorrows in a bar tended by Luis Guzmán (The Padre), Hannah is approached by Tanner Wadsworth (Ryan Phillippe, Brothers by Blood) the scion of a wealthy family who has just been tasked with managing the historical mansion they run as a tourist attraction. Earlier that day, Tanner fired the main guide when she wouldn’t sleep with him, and where better to find a replacement than a watering hole. Since the gig comes with a place to sleep, Hannah enthusiastically signs on.
What she doesn’t know is that the house is haunted by the ghost of Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer, Uncle Frank), whom we saw killed by her philandering husband in a prologue set in 1875. As it turns out, only Hannah can see the spirit. At first disgusted by Hannah’s habits (with good reason), Lady Wadsworth soon decides to tutor her in the ways of being a lady so she can offer more accurate costumed tours of the manor. Soon, however, with Tanner not letting up on his desire to bed the new guide (even though he is married), Lady Wadsworth and Hannah team up to not only fix the present-day situation, but to correct an historical injustice involving the former’s last will and testament. Helping Hannah in the material world is a local college professor, played by Justin Long (After Class), himself. Shenanigans follow.
Shot like a soap opera, with bright, high-key lighting devoid of contrast and personailty, The Lady of the Manor does itself no favors by so gleefully illuminating the cheapness of its sets and costumes. Then again, after the initial setup, which does provide a few genuine laughs, the script is written with no greater attention to quality. Worse, the story blithely glosses over the fraught racial history of the titular location and what it means to the Black sister-and-brother duo of Nia (Tamara Austin, Stressed to Kill) and Marcus (Wallace Jean, Huracán), both of whom work there as have their family for generations (say what?). Add to the mess some terrible rabbi jokes, and it just doesn’t get any better. Lynskey and Greer are kind of fun together, but nothing can save this misbegotten comedy.