Director: Sean Anders
Writers: Sean Anders and John Morris
Stars: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer
Synopsis: A musical version of Charles Dickens’s story of a miserly misanthrope who is taken on a magical journey.
The latest version of Charles Dickens’ favorite misanthrope, Spirited, is a modernized musical update of the holiday classic. This time, Will Ferrell plays the Scrooge, who happens to be living his afterlife with his best life. He currently has the title Ghost of Christmas Present. Ebenezer works with a team of do-gooders who want nothing but to reclaim and tap into the holiday spirit in everyone. We get a taste early in the film, including winning over a woman aptly named Karen (Rose Byrne in a terrific cameo) who makes filing noise ordinances and homeowners association complaints an Olympic sport.
However, taking on these small projects has left our G.O.C.P. in an existential crisis. Sure, he can create change on the micro and mezzo levels, but what about a big fish that can make a real macro-level change? Like the Steve Bannons, Elon Musks, or Donald Trumps of the world? The ones that attack their enemies for profit. That rollback the civil rights of minority groups to make the alt-right great again. Even build fraudulent fundraising campaigns to get reality stars elected to public office. That’s where Ryan Reynolds comes in. He plays that miser — since Ferrell’s Scrooge has gone Mr. Rogers — a soulless media strategist and consultant specializing in the world of spin. To put it in perspective, If Shiv Roy of Succession uses her niceness as a weapon, like a machete, Briggs must be using a flamethrower.
Briggs appears charming but he is an expert on defeating your opponent by finding their weak spots. There’s nothing he won’t sell his soul for. (I’m certain pharmaceutical companies hired Briggs to spin opioids as breath mints). Case in point, when his adolescent niece Wren (Marlow Barkley) wants to win her school election, he finds dirt on her ten-year-old foe in the form of a social media post that will cancel the little guy for years to come. That makes him the perfect candidate to be reformed by the Ghost of Christmas Present. If he can reform Briggs, they can turn a slippery slope of a world going fashionably evil into something good.
Directed by Sean Anders, Spirited had me caught up in some grand mirthfulness and reminds us of what a good holiday comedy can bring. Yes, we still hold a grudge against Anders for subjecting us to That’s My Boy, but he hit the sweet spot with the family comedy Instant Family. The director brings that same empathetic heart to a fairly conventional comedy with glitz, glamour, and some delightful musical numbers by its top-notch cast. Including the wonderful and electric opening number, “That Christmas Morning Feelin’,” which sets the tone of the film. It’s also one of the cleverest uses of exposition I’ve seen in years. Reynolds and Ferrell both get their solo numbers with our Elf singing his little heart out with the heartfelt “Unredeemable,” and Reynolds puts a delightful spin on “Bringin’ Back Christmas.”
Yes, Spirited does give way to most of today’s sophomoric tropes. However, the cast here is amusing and likable, so you’ll forgive the use of them almost immediately. Besides Ferrell and Reynolds, you have the hilarious and often adorable Sunita Mani (Glow), who plays the Ghost of Christmas Past and can’t help but toss aside her responsibilities to get a roll in the hay with the man. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but Patrick Page’s channeling his inner-Christopher Plummer gave me TheSound of Music holiday feels. There is the ultra-sweet romance between Ferrell’s Present and Octavia Spencer’s Kimberly that is as tender as your roasted turkey served during your holiday dinner.
You can dock Anders’s film for being a good half-hour too long and giving in to mainstream audience expectations. Still, Elf scribe David Berenbaum puts a whimsical spin on a thoroughly enjoyable Charles Dickens holiday staple. Ferrell and Reynolds have terrific buddy chemistry and are dependably funny here. All of this makes Spirited potentially another Will Ferrell (and friends) holiday classic that’s a delight from start to finish.
Grade – B+