Synopsis: An aimless ne’er-do-well becomes a tour guide in a historic estate and winds up befriending the manor’s resident ghost.
Stars: Melanie Lynskey, Judy Greer, Justin Long, Luis Guzmán, Ryan Phillippe, Patrick Duffy
Director: Justin Long and Christian Long
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (2.5/10)
Review: This last month has been awfully good for ghosts…and it’s not even October yet. You may recall that just a few short posts ago I gave a marginal thumbs up to the rather decent Afterlife of the Party, a Netflix film starring Victoria Justice that was pleasant in a goopy, Clorox-wiped clean sort of way. I also broke the news that I’m a closet fan of these types of films where a ghost haunts a living human and either works with them or against them to right a wrong so they can rest in peace. I’m sticking by that statement, even after being truly haunted by the presence of Lady of the Manor, another movie with some similar themes. If you asked me two weeks ago which of these ghost movies I’d be less impressed with, I’d surely have said Afterlife of the Party based on who was involved with Lady of the Manor…sadly, this one is a D.O.A. P.O.S.
Remember when Justin Long dated Drew Barrymore and it was weird? And weird only in the sense that Barrymore has always seemed like such an adult and Long has felt like a forever teenager so the pairing felt like a May-December romance that even though it was more like a May 12 and June 18 one? Long clearly remembers it too because he’s cast the talented Melanie Lynskey in a role I have a hunch Barrymore would have played if they were still together (and possibly written with her in mind) and then asked her to emulate the kewpie doll mannerisms of the star so easy to imitate to seal the deal. Even at a subconscious level, it’s impossible not to watch the movie without having Barrymore firmly in your mind and, not to take anything away from Lynskey, wonder if she’d have brought a tad more sparkle to the role.
Lynskey (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) plays Hannah, described in the press notes as a “ne’er-do-well” which is fancy talk for the lay about freeloader she is, occasionally delivering drugs via bike but too dim to even do that right. When she’s mistaken for a sexual predator (cue an uncomfortable sequence involving pedophile jokes) she’s hauled off to prison where she’s dumped by her boyfriend and kicked to the curb. As she drowns her sorrow at the local watering hole, she attracts the attention of spoiled lothario Tanner Wadsworth (an extremely puffy in the face Ryan Phillippe, Wish Upon) heir to the Wadsworth estate and recently tasked with its operations. He’s in need of a new tour guide to dress like the former, you got it, lady of the manor and decides Hannah is the best one for the job. Mostly, he just wants to sleep with her.
Before she knows it, Hannah has a new job that comes with a free place to live. The only trouble is that the estate already has a permanent live-in guest (Judy Greer, Halloween) and she isn’t happy with the new arrival that’s loud, obnoxious, and brings with her a large supply of rubber bedroom toys named after famous movie stars. Dead for a number of years, Lady Wadsworth still holds some values close to her heart and is horrified to see Hannah exhibit the type of extreme unladylike behavior that can only be found in a movie written and directed by men. Where else can you see a childless female ghost murder victim from colonial times and a rudderless loser men use as little more than a sexual object discuss breaking wind and the best way to excuse yourself from the room when you have to let one rip?
When the validity of Lady Wadsworth’s will is questioned, Hannah will have to step up and help out her phantom friend (spoiler alert? I mean, c’mon…you have to know they start to get along eventually) prove what her original intentions for her estate were before it falls into the wrong hands for good. At the same time, Hannah balances a physical relationship with Tanner and something a bit sweeter with a local historian (Long, Tusk) who initially went on one of her disastrous tours. I feel like I should at least mention Luis Guzmán (Guilty as Sin) seeing that he appears so high up in the credits but has little to do as a nameless bartender other than dry a few glasses and wipe down a counter or two while the main actors get sloppy drunk in front of him. Surely there was more to this role…or was Guzmán visiting his friends on the set and they needed a last minute replacement?
There’s been a lot of fingers pointing lately toward movies that are deemed “more like TV movies” and the plot for Lady of the Manor is torn directly from the listings on Hallmark or Lifetime. At its heart, it’s your typical ghost meets girl story and uncovering a not that interesting mystery is a way to spend the time while you reorganize your sock drawer. Long not only stars in this but wrote and directed it with his brother Christian and it’s as if they took that vanilla plot and wiped their noses with it. It’s such a snotty booger of a movie and takes every chance to go low with the cheapest possible jokes always seemingly the first choice. Even blessed with someone comedically talented like Greer, the script favors gross-out humor and dialogue laced with trash talk – there’s little trust shown in the actors or the audience to find the comedy.
What’s most disappointing is that Long has been at this for so long now that you’d think for this first time up to bat he’d have something a bit more to offer, something better to represent him (and his family) on his debut. Even if Barrymore had taken the lead from Lynskey (and, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with what Lynskey is doing, she deserves some sort of medal for surviving this train wreck) it wouldn’t have saved things because Lady of the Manor is just rotten, a few laughs along the way notwithstanding.