[Screen It]

"A GHOST STORY"
(2017) (Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Following his death, a man returns to his former home as a sheet-covered ghost and silently watches both his wife grieve and the passage of time.
PLOT:
C (CASEY AFFLECK) and M (ROONEY MARA) are a married couple living in a small house where he works as a musician or music producer of some sort. After he's killed in an auto accident, he returns to the house he never wanted to leave as an old-fashioned ghost, dressed in a head to toe sheet with black eye holes cut into that.

For long stretches of time, he stands motionless watching his widow grieve, with her unaware of his presence and trying to make sense of it all. And with the passage of time, she eventually leaves, others move in, and the house eventually falls into disrepair, all of which leads to time folding back on itself, resulting in the ghost witnessing something he couldn't have imagined.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
I'm sure you've heard the old saying about something being as exciting as watching paint dry or as mesmerizing as watching grass grow and that a watched pot never boils. Simply put, you understand that something is happening, but it just seems as if it's going to take forever, and engaging in such behavior becomes an exercise in patience and maintaining one's sanity.

Well, now you can add "as interesting as watching Rooney Mara eat an entire pie, real-time, in a locked-down, static shot." Yes, there might be some fetish-oriented viewers who might enjoy watching such consumption. For everyone else, however, it's just one example of many in "A Ghost Story" that might result in you first fidgeting, then checking your watch, and ultimately grasping at your hair while screaming "For the love of Patrick Swayze, get to the point already!"

I bring up the late actor because of his appearance in the thematically similar and far more engaging and certainly more visually and narratively kinetic "Ghost." In that film, Swayze played a man murdered by his business partner who then, as a ghost, watched his widow (Demi Moore) live in her grief while trying to contact her and nail the bad guy.

Here, a nameless man (listed as "C" in the production notes and played by Casey Affleck) is killed in a car wreck (we only see the aftermath), then identified by his shell-shocked wife "M" (Mara), and then returns home dressed as an old-fashioned ghost (full sheet with black eye holes cut out).

He then stands, often motionless for minutes at a time and watches his wife do next to nothing, with one of the biggest "action" moments being the aforementioned pie eating while seated on the kitchen floor. I completely get and appreciate what writer/director David Lowery is going after and namely that's a combination of how death and grief make everyone uneasy and uncomfortable.

But there has to have been a myriad of ways (such as what "Ghost" did, or "Always" or "Heaven Can Wait" and so on) that would be more intriguing, engaging or even just intellectually stimulating than what's presented here. Rarely do I want to flee the cinema (okay, "The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure" is one exception), but I found myself on multiple occasions during the relatively short running time of 87 minutes desperately wishing to depart the company of the dearly departed.

There's no telling if Affleck (who was so good downplaying grief in "Manchester by the Sea") is even under the sheet as there's zero acting going on, outside of standing still and occasionally moving ever so slightly. And Mara, while believable in her grief, simply can't do much with her character as written and directed. She grieves, Affleck watches while standing and we increasingly lose our patience and then minds.

Yes, I'm sure certain art house viewers will love the pic and its philosophical musings about death, and critics will be fooled into thinking they're watching something profound and thus wax on poetically about the brilliance of the piece stemming from its minimalism (and torture of viewers).

Things slightly get interesting when time starts passing by and the ghost finds himself with new housemates (that results in a little poltergeist behavior on his part -- none of which is scary, although I realize that's not the intention) and then more changes in his humble abode before time ends up wrapping back around on itself.

At least that breaks some of the oppressive monotony that was suffocating the offering, but even this new material fails to engage. In the end, it's sort of like watching a novice student filmmaker's supposedly profound and philosophical art film that was shot in a few days and on a minimal budget (thus necessitating the plethora of static and locked-down camera shots).

You want to be supportive, but once out of the filmmaker's earshot you're likely to tell others you'd rather watch a pot begin to boil in front of a newly painted wall featuring a lawn of growing grass. Clearly not my cup of tea and making me long for any number of other non-scary movies about spirits and grieving, "A Ghost Story" will get under your skin, but probably only as an unpleasant irritant. It rates as a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed June 29, 2017 / Posted July 14, 2017


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