By Christian DiMartino
My local theatre hosted a “Mystery Movie Screening” this evening. This is basically a movie that hasn’t been released yet that you get to see early, for $5- the catch being, you don’t know what the movie is until you’re there. I almost went to one of these back in September, but decided to take the plunge this evening. With the fear that they’d give me, I don’t know, a Hallmark Christmas movie, and the hope they’d give me, I don’t know, The Fabelmans. I got Spirited.
What is Spirited? Well, a not too shabby Christmas movie starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds that drops on Apple TV+ November 18th. This much I knew, besides the shabby part. I knew what it entailed, but also, I didn’t. Because with this mystery movie, I got a little more than I expected. I know that Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka once said that “the best kind of prize is a sur-prise,” but the surprise I found in Spirited was an unpleasant one.
What am I referring to? Well, Spirited actually has a number of ideas that I thought were pretty good. Alas, it has one idea that really doesn’t work, and it’s a pretty focal point of the movie. The movie starts, and Will Ferrell’s Ghost of Christmas Present is filling us in on the setup of the movie. Then after his setup, we’re given… a musical number. Not just Will Ferrell singing at the Catalina Wine Mixer, no no. A big, flashy musical number, led by Will Ferrell, with original songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the friggin’ songs for La La Land.
Does all of this seem strange? Well, it sure seemed strange to me, since I had no idea what movie I was signing on for, even though I was aware of Spirited and its upcoming existence. You know, I just saw Singin’ in the Rain on the big screen. What a magical experience that movie is, and always will be. You see, part of what makes the film so lively is that the people who are doing the singing and dancing should be doing the singing and dancing. Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, much as I love them, should not.
This was my main gripe with Spirited, which people will either like more than me, or less. It’s to be determined. I honestly don’t know where I land, because if I were to watch this again from the comfort of my home, I’d have the pleasure of hitting the fast forward button through those musical numbers. What would I be left with? Probably an okay Christmas movie, somewhat uneven in the comedy department, but we’d be looking at 100 minutes instead of 120, and we’d be without those musical numbers. Plus, as is, it’s really got some good ideas in it, at least in terms of adding a modern spin to A Christmas Carol, which of course follows a collection of spirits trying to lift Scrooge’s spirits. I felt my spirit exit my body every time there was a musical number.
I guess I’ll dive into the plot. Ferrell is Christmas Present, who runs operations out of what looks like The North Pole, but I guess it’s just some spiritual realm. Every year, he and his troop find a living soul on earth who leads a miserable existence, and they spend the entire year gathering up information on these people to show them the error of their ways and get them to find the good within them. Honestly, not a bad approach. I mean the Bill Murray movie Scrooged has done this modern retelling approach before, (it’s even name-dropped here) as well as others, but since this tale hasn’t been touched in a few years, eh, I was okay with it.
Present sets his sights on Clint (Reynolds), a smug, slimy fellow who doops people with his business. What’s the business? I don’t remember, because I was distracted by Reynolds’ musical number. But Clint doesn’t seem like a very nice guy, and we get the first real taste of it whenever he asks his assistant (Octavia Spencer) to dig up blackmail on a 13 year old, so then his niece will win the student election. The whole student election thing didn’t make sense; they ask him to help her win the election, and yet the guy find something that’ll do the trick and they don’t like it? Like don’t get me wrong, destroying the life of a teenager is icky, but like, what did they want him to do? This is one of those things that maybe worked better on paper, but again in terms of trying to add something new to the Dickens tale, I’ll allow it.
Present kind of gets the hots for the assistant, but surely enough, the spirits start to visit Clint. He seems pretty adamant about not changing his ways, and the fellow spirits kind of agree; Clint has been deemed irredeemable, and a lost cause. But Present sees hope in him yet, and tries to get him to see the error of his ways. The backstory of Present is actually a pretty clever touch, and it leads to the one musical number I did enjoy. Said number reminds me a lot of “Thank You Very Much” from the Albert Finney rendition of Scrooge, and it’s the one musical number that actually kind of gets the assignment. The rest…
I give the movie two and a half stars out of pure Christmas generosity. I have my tree up, I’m ready to make the Yuletide gay, let’s go! Because I feel like we typically don’t get movie stars making Christmas movies these days, and in the case of Spirited, it’s not one that is “bad,” and there are a number of them in the genre that certainly are. The movie is kind of hit or miss, but its ideas, in terms of shaking up the original Dickens story, worked for me for the most part. That and the stuff that they do in terms of the Ghosts and the rules and such. I don’t know, I felt the effort.
Again though, those pesky musical numbers. Maybe people won’t be irked by them, or maybe people will wonder why I haven’t gone lower than two and a half stars. I give it the rating I’ve given it because it’s a number of good ideas that feel dragged down by a mistake. The mistake being that Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell are funny, but they’re not singers. Here they’re made to sing songs that aren’t very funny, if at all. It just felt like a very strange choice. Octavia Spencer too, like, why?
It would really be one thing if they had just removed the musical aspect as it was. Or they made the songs comedic. Or even if they just played classic Christmas songs, but they were performed in a joking way. I don’t know, maybe the two of them wanted to just experiment with this sort of thing. They did a thing, and they tried. They did a thing that typically resulted in my palm dragging down my face. The songs in this movie might not even be bad, they’re just in the wrong hands. But you know, I’d watch it again someday. Long as I have the fast forward button at the ready.
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