Directed by: Sean Anders
Premise: A riff on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The spirits of Christmas annually visit sordid people and inspire them to change their ways. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) takes on an especially difficult assignment who might be irredeemable (Ryan Reynolds).
What Works: There have been many adaptations of A Christmas Carol and Spirited brings a new approach to the material. It imagines a Men in Black-style organization that is built around selecting and rehabilitating despicable people over the Christmas holiday. The filmmakers build on Charles Dickens’ original idea in a way that is relevant to the themes of the story but adds some complexity. At issue is whether or not people can actually change in the long term but also the importance of human connection. The film juxtaposes authentic relationships with the shallowness of online connections and how social media fosters antipathy that’s foiled by in-person interactions. The notable performance of Spirited is Octavia Spencer who is the Bob Cratchit to Ryan Reynolds’ Scrooge. What’s most interesting about her and the story is the way she is ethically compromised. Spirited might have been more interesting if Spencer’s character had been the focus of the story.
What Doesn’t: The weakest element of Spirited is its lead actors Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. This movie is a musical and neither of them are good singers. Farrell and Reynolds musical performances sound passable for karaoke night but not for the leads in a musical feature film. The songs themselves vary in quality. There are a couple of notable musical numbers, namely “The View from Here” and “Good Afternoon,” but those songs are crowded by the overwhelming volume of mediocre tunes. The film also suffers from Ferrell and Reynolds’ style of comedy. Although each actor’s body of work is pretty different—Ferrell generally makes broad comedies while Reynolds does a lot of action comedies—their style and approach to the material is actually quite similar. They both tend to nod and wink at the audience, acknowledging the artificiality of the dramaturgy while also playing for sentimentality. Sometimes this works, as in Anchorman and Deadpool, but in Spirited Farrell and Reynolds’ style constantly undermines the credibility of the movie and takes the audience out of the story. Sincerity is especially important to Christmas stories. The audience needs to believe in the hope that the season represents and the style of Spirited often undermines that earnestness. The tone of Spirited veers severely from silly to serious in a way that doesn’t fit together and one serious moment that is supposed to be a critical turning point comes across crass because of the lighter material around it.
Disc extras: On AppleTV.
Bottom Line: Spirited suffers from miscasting its two lead roles and a dissonant tone. There is an interesting idea here and even some good moments but on the whole Spirited doesn’t come together and its big emotional moments come across calculated and flat.
Episode: #932 (December 25, 2022)