Sometimes you really don’t know what you’re getting with Will Ferrell. The man’s funny, but some of his movies have been absolute duds – Holmes & Watson ring any bells? And sometimes you think the movie’s not going to be very good, and it ends up surprising you, like Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. So which category does Spirited fall? Well, the opening segments might lead you to think that it’s not a good film, but after a rough start, Spirited actually improves and lands in the not-too-bad category. Perfectly serviceable if you want something jolly to watch for the festive season.
Spirited is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, from the perspective of the ghosts that do the haunting. Ferrell plays Present, as in the ghost of Christmas Present, and he’s been doing the gig for a pretty long time. He’s actually due for retirement, which means heading back to the world of the living, but he can’t seem to allow himself to embrace retirement. Oh, there’s another thing I should mention, Spirited is a musical, only it seems ashamed to be one, with characters constantly sighing as someone bursts into song. Initially, the audience will too, as, like I said, the opening parts of Spirited aren’t the most smooth-sailing.
Things begin to work when Ryan Reynolds, who plays Clint Briggs, shows up on screen. Reynolds is his usual, quippy self, but he and Ferrell have decent chemistry together, and their shared musical performances like “Good Afternoon” are pretty enjoyable. Ferrell and Reynolds aren’t exactly Broadway singers, but they can carry a tune and have enough stage charisma to leave us, well, charmed.
While the team are on their way to their latest haunting, Present gets distracted by Clint and his showmanship. Clint works in PR and is an expert at stirring up vitriol online and using the toxic nature of the internet to his advantage. Present feels a connection to him and convinces Marley (Patrick Page) that they should haunt him instead, despite his bestowed label as “unredeemable”. Going into this, you may think you have the story all worked out, since we all know how the Dickens’ tale works. However, Spirited manages to not end up being cliché or formulaic, so much so that even the skeptical might be won over.
There are some neat revelations along the way that are quite clever, and the movie resists the urge to go all storybook ending on us. Reynolds can be quite effective in these humorous yet vulnerable roles, like we saw in Definitely, Maybe, so he’s in his element here. Ferrell delivers a good performance too, reminiscent of the same wide-eyed innocence he brought to his role in the movie Elf. Present’s romantic relationship with Octavia Spencer’s Kimberly is pretty sweet too, and I like that we’re getting to see mature relationships take centre-stage in more films these days.
Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption, but Spirited wants us to ponder if the redeemed can stay that way forever. It’s easy to look at the world and only see fallibility, one that we can’t ever hope to reverse. But that doesn’t mean we abandon all hope and allow ourselves to partake in the same toxic behaviour. We can rise above, be the change, and who knows the level of ripples we’ll manage to stir up.
Review screener provided.
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