‘Ghostlight’ Executes a Grounded Story of Family, Tragedy, and Levity

Ulises Duenas


Balancing comedy and drama is difficult even when some movies make it look easy. Ghostlight (IFC Films) manages to do a lot, thanks to its great cast and their grounded performances, and the film delivers some emotional punches.


Dan is a construction worker with a wife and teenage daughter. As the movie goes through its opening scenes, it’s clear that something is bothering him and since his character won’t talk about it, the audience is left wondering what lies beneath his anger and sadness. After an outburst on the street, a woman asks him to join a table read for a community theater’s rendition of Romeo and Juliet


Early on, Dan and his wife, Sharon, mention a lawsuit, a vague subject that is slowly unraveled throughout the film. Learning about the lawsuit slowly informs the audience why Dan and his family are in such a difficult place. It’s a great way to keep the viewer hooked on the plot as they follow the trail of what it’s all really about. 


As the film goes on, Dan’s daughter, Daisy, becomes a bigger part of the story. She’s a typical angsty teenager in the early scenes, but goes on to show that she is genuinely open to accepting help in addressing her trauma, while Dan is in denial about it. Daisy cares about her parents and is self-aware enough to know that problems must be addressed. The family is suffering while not being able to communicate their feelings, which is largely because Dan chooses to withdraw or lash out. 



Being in the play and connecting with his fellow cast members is what ultimately helps Dan. As soon as the first table read happens, the basic elements of the plot become obvious. Dan is reluctant at first, says it was a one-time thing, struggles with the concept of acting, and eventually gets the hang of it. 


Despite that predictability, the performances of the cast keep things interesting, and the writer does a good job of mixing in some humor, so that the film doesn’t feel overly dramatic. It all pays off with some very emotional and even cathartic moments by the end.


These days, a solid drama from a smaller studio isn’t uncommon. It’s great that so many smaller movies can break out and be recognized for their excellence, but it also means the bar for smaller-budget films is moving up. While Ghostlight has a solid cast and script, one thing that stuck out, or rather didn’t, was the cinematography. 



All the scenes use standard shots and framing. Nothing really stands out with the lighting or camera angles, so on a visual level, the film feels somewhat dull. I wish the director was bolder with how the movie looks.


There’s nothing grandiose about Ghostlight, and that’s a big part of why it works. Its characters are so grounded and genuine that it’s easy to connect with them. Most people don’t get over tragedy with a big, epic payoff, so the best we can hope for is getting to a point where the pain becomes dull enough that we can live again. 


Author Bio:

Ulises Duenas is a senior writer and film critic at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


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