VOD film review: Spirited (2022)
James R | On 20, Nov 2022
Director: Sean Anders
Cast: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Patrick Page, Sunita Mani, Tracy Morgan
“You’ve been Christmas Caroled!” That’s the catchphrase that the Ghost of Christmas Future (Tracy Morgan) wants to introduce to his routine, one that he carries out every Christmas Eve. But, his bosses keep telling him, he’s traditionally not meant to talk – he’s just meant to point dramatically at things. And so the Christmas hauntings continue year in, year out, the whole Scrooge-like operation turned into a regimented operation, overseen by Marley (Patrick Page) and fronted by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell). But after so many iterations of the same old formula, is Present’s heart still in it?
Spirited gives us a genuinely inventive take on A Christmas Carol, and the film doubles down on the notion of trying to change someone’s heart by Present picking a supposedly “unredeemable” figure for their latest target: PR guru Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds), a master at manipulating public opinion by whipping up anger on social media – it’s not enough that someone likes you or your product, he argues in a snappy cabaret number, they have to hate the alternative more. In the modern age of trolling, bullying and shaming, does the notion of forgiveness and kindness for the sake of kindness feel out of date?
The script does dwell on such questions and has some real fun with it, particularly in the first act, when Clint is unimpressed by the old-fashioned night-of-guilt routine and he pulls apart every choreographed tug on his heartstrings. He even charms his way past Ghost of Christmas Past (Glow’s Sunita Mani, on scene-stealing form), while Present’s attempts to dig through Clint’s memories end up being reversed so the duo spend half the time talking about Present’s own regrets and wishes.
All this plays out on the additional meta layer of the film striving to provide us with a familiar dose of A Christmas Carol but in a way that doesn’t seem old-hat. In other words, there’s a lot going on. In its best moments that means the film zips through scenarios with a Charlie Kaufman-esque imagination, undermining and subverting expectations with an introspective silliness and no end of scenes and locations spilling into each other. In its weaker moments, Spirited gets bogged down in its own busy self-awareness – the fact that a musical number plays over the end credits after being cut from the main runtime is telling in itself. And did we mention it’s a musical too?
The songs, by The Greatest Showman’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are hit and miss, never quite sure whether they want to be tongue-in-cheek or heart-on-sleeve. A subplot involving one of Clint’s senior colleagues threatens to waste Octavia Spencer, and brings a little too much clutter to the table, but things come together nicely for a well-conceived narrative endpoint. Keeping the festive cheer going, meanwhile, are Ferrell and Reynolds, whose fun chemistry – and surprisingly decent singing voices – make sure that there are enjoyable chuckles (if not entirely successful bouts of earnestness) along the way. It’s no Elf, The Christmas Chronicles or Klaus, but Spirited leaves you feeling like you’ve been Christmas Caroled all over again – with enough variety to keep the central theme of redemption fresh.