‘Spirited’ review: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds form holiday bromance

The umpteenth screen incarnation of Charles Dickens’ long-running A Christmas Carol, Spirited is such amusing, light-hearted, and good-natured entertainment that it’s not hard to forgive the missteps of this flashy musical-comedy fantasy. However, Grinch viewers can sing a different tune.

The story’s meta, sometimes intricately reinvented in which rules are seemingly broken (and merrily so), finds a trio of ghosts celebrating Christmas in the past (Sunita Mani), present (Will Ferrell), and future ( a cloaked Loren Woods, voiced by Tracy Morgan) tasked every Christmas Eve with rehabilitating an insidious being for the good of mankind. As it’s neatly explained, “We haunt someone, make them a better person, and then we sing about it.”

It’s a fairly expansive and corporatized operation run by cranky, chain-rattling boss Jacob Marley (Patrick Page). He also oversees an army of “support spirits” who investigate the potential “culprits” (who are ripe for transformation) and help plan the haunts.

Present, a veteran spirit who “died before there were indoor plumbing,” is torn between finally retiring from the trade and having a “real” life on earth or continuing the noble work of saving souls. So when he finds someone problematic enough to be considered “incurable” — the slick, opportunistic marketing magnate Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds) — he knows he has at least one more rescue mission inside him. “He’s like the perfect combination of Mussolini and Seacrest,” Present enthuses to a dubious Marley.

Against the better knowledge of his boss, Present infiltrates Clint’s unabashedly selfish life, turns it upside down and turns it upside down – with every knick knack at his supernatural (and the film’s budget) disposal – to try to be this Scrooge -Getting surrogates to face their past mistakes and admit the error of their ways. But is change even possible in these deeply cynical and divisive times?

There are so many twists, turns, reveals and plot reversals – some hugely entertaining, others mind-bending – that too much detail could fall into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, the road to redemption isn’t a cakewalk for Clint or Present, as they end up forming some sort of unlikely bromance, crammed with some more Broadway-worthy musical numbers penned by dynamic duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen, “La La Land”) and choreographed by Chloe Arnold. The Victorian London set “Good Afternoon” is a total head turner, while “Do a Little Good”, “That Christmas Morning Feelin'” and the (literally) bubbly “Ripple” also stand out.

Octavia Spencer smiles while surrounded by other partygoers in the film "Spirited."

Octavia Spencer in the movie Spirited.

(Claire Folger/Apple TV+)

The swirling plot mix also includes Kimberly (the ever-welcome Octavia Spencer), Clint’s conflicted right-wing executive and opposition researcher, who will undergo her own emotional shift as she and Present find each other romantic — and, to be honest, not that convincingly – attracted to each other. (Being able to see the ghostly present while other people can’t is one of many things that just goes along with it.)

Clint’s beloved late sister Carrie (Andrea Anders), their baby daughter Wren (Marlow Barkley), and Clint and Carrie’s brother Owen (Joe Tippett) also figure in Clint’s past and present. A story arc with its lighthearted “media savvy” advice to Wren on how to win a middle school election – and its potential failures – adds a contemporary if overly constructed touch. It’s just one of the few “teachable moments” in the film.

Director Sean Anders, who co-wrote the busy, witty, often rambling screenplay with Instant Family and Daddy’s Home collaborator John Morris, keeps the film largely going — though at over two hours a reasonable edit could have been a plus.

Performances by a nicely modulated Ferrell (back in Christmas movie mode for the first time since 2003’s “Elf”), a sweetly earnest Spencer, and an appealingly kinetic Reynolds are gratifying, though there may be no record deals in the future. Possible “Dancing With the Stars” appearances are another story.


Rated: PG-13, for language, some stimulating material and thematic elements.

Duration: 2 hours, 7 minutes

To play: Begins November 11, Regency Bruin Theater, Westwood and Regal LA Live, Downtown Los Angeles; available November 18 on Apple TV+

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-11-10/review-spirited-christmas-ryan-reynolds-will-ferrell-octavia-spencer ‘Spirited’ review: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds form holiday bromance

Sarah Ridley

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