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Review: Dated farce 'Blithe Spirit' fails to conjure new laughs

Courtesy of IFC Films


Noël Coward’s beloved supernatural comedy “Blithe Spirit” is again standing in the spotlight. This time driven by an ace cast that includes Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Isla Fisher and Judi Dench. But Edward Hall’s rendition only tweaks the plot marginally, and despite the talent involved fails to conjure new laughs or bring forth timely perspectives.

Stevens - who between this and “Eurovision” is embracing his comedic chops - plays Charles Condomine, a prestigious author searching for inspiration on his next major project: a motion picture. In a rut since his wife Elvira (Mann) passed seven years prior, Charles has since remarried to Ruth (Fisher) and spends his days moping about what’s next. To help spur his imagination, Charles invites Madame Arcati (Dench) - a stage medium with a rickety past - to perform a seance for research. But to his surprise, Arcati’s ritual brings the ghost of Elvira into reality thus making Charles' life a living hell.

First produced in 1941, Coward’s play (eventually made into a filmed version by David Lean with Rex Harrison circa 1945) was irresistible to audiences who ate up the whimsical elements and deemed it a masterpiece. No such craving exists for the 2021 iteration which is built on a buzzy cast and cheap special effects. Much of “Blithe Spirit” works because of the simplistic nature of the original script, and Hall is more interested in beefing up the slapstick humor than finding honest laughs.

Considering writers Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard, and Nick Moorcroft had a solid blueprint to work with, it's astonishing how wooden their “Blithe Spirit” plays. To their credit, putting together a lively 2021 iteration of a dated farce was always going to be challenging, but that’s usually where the best innovation lies, and they don’t tinker with the material enough to make it worth revisiting.

Grade: C-

BLITHE SPIRIT opens in select theaters and premieres on VOD Feb 19th.


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