Ghost Town: Not Allowing The Romcom Genre To Die… Yet

Imagine The Sixth Sense. Now imagine Haley Joel Osment aggravated instead of scared. Now imagine him as a fat middle-aged British man. Laughing yet? While the concept sounds simple, and the plot description seems wildly familiar, the unconventional charm that Ricky Gervais gives this romantic comedy helps it rise to the top. One can only hope this box office flop finds new life on DVD, otherwise we may never see another studio romcom take a risk on its lead like this. He manages to not simply be acerbic and self-loathing, but sad, charming, and lovable. I wish I’d seen this film on a date—don’t undersell this film when at Blockbuster looking for a flick to watch with your lady.

Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is insanely unpleasant. He avoids social activity like the plague and sees nothing but the worst in everyone. He even thinks the doctors running his colonoscopy are inept, shallow nitwits. Well, as it turns out, they mess up his anesthesia, and he dies for seven minutes. When he exits the hospital, he (altogether now!) sees dead people. The main dead person is the tuxedo-sporting Frank (Greg Kinnear, smarmy as ever), who says he’ll get all dead people to leave Pincus alone if he does one favor: break up the impending marriage of Frank’s wife (Tea Leoni) to her new fiancée, who Frank says is a bad man—his reason for being a ghost is to prevent this marriage. So what is the brilliant idea Pincus has? He’ll woo Frank’s wife, showing her that there are other fish in the sea, so she’ll dump the guy. Frank is very skeptical—so are we. We’ve seen Pincus steal her cab and slam the elevator door in her face. Plus, we see the way Pincus talks to people. Oh yeah, and it’s beautiful Tea Leoni— how in the world are we EVER going to believe she falls for Ricky Gervais?

But somehow, in defiance of logic, we do believe it. Leoni does some great work here, making a dubious transition work. While the real star is Ricky Gervais, the script/direction by David Koepp helps by keeping typically heavy material nice and light, without removing the emotional impact. I’d be surprised if most people could keep their eyes mist-free when the ghosts inevitably start having their wishes fulfilled. Why do good romcoms like this get ignored, whereas the newest wooden Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson vehicle becomes box office gold? Perhaps the advertising campaign didn’t have a pretty enough face to put on the poster. Thank God they didn’t—it would’ve been a worse movie for it. The joy of watching Gervais win over Leoni wouldn’t work with your typical celebrity, and no beefcake American actor could’ve handled these one-liners. Special final accolade goes to Kristen Wiig, who brings her trademark to another hilarious small role as the doctor who gives Pincus the colonoscopy, but is more concerned about darkening her spray-on tan to make her eyes “pop” more. From TV executives in Knocked Up to yoga instructors in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (the deleted scenes) to surgeons here—is there any occupation prone to self-importance that she can’t flawlessly mock?

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~ by russellhainline on January 7, 2009.

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