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The Independent Critic

Keith Kupferer, Katherine Mallen Kupferer, Dolly De Leon, Tara Mallen
Kelly O'Sullivan, Alex Thompson
Kelly O'Sullivan
Rated R
115 Mins.
IFC Films

 Movie Review: Ghostlight 
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There's a messiness that's absolutely perfect in Kelly O'Sullivan and Alex Thompson's second feature Ghostlight, a film about the transformational power of the arts, all of them, and a film that lives into that transformational power. 

Dan (Keith Kupferer) is an ordinary joe, a construction worker with an obvious edginess that isn't going to be explained fully for quite some time. Between reckless traffic and the incessant noise complaints from Rita (Dolly De Leon), director of a nearby theater troupe, Dan's daily life is a headache and going home to wife Sharon (Tara Mallen) and daughter Daisy (Katherine Mallen Kupferer) doesn't offer much in the way of peace. There's something going on for sure, however, O'Sullivan and Thompson aren't in the mood to spoon-feed us and this is a story that demands patience and demands time. 

There's a disconnect between Dan and Sharon, a lack of communication seemingly amidst words that simply can't be formed. Daisy, on the other hand, is acting out at school and baffled that those around her aren't willing to scream alongside her. 

It's not long before we begin to realize that the family has experienced tragedy, profound tragedy, though the details will be kept from us for quite some time. For anyone who's ever experienced grief, Ghostlight will feel honest and true and familiar. For the vast majority of creatives, Ghostlight will be a breath of fresh air and a reminder that the arts can heal, community matters, and oh my god how much we actually need each other. 

After a confrontation at work, it's clear that Dan needs a safe place to process, breathe, express, and feel connected. That comes unexpectedly from Rita, whose Broadway background reveals her own woundedness and burn-out and who clearly recognizes something in Dan and something she can do about it. With a production of Romeo and Juliet on the horizon, Rita engages Dan and, somewhat unexpectedly, Dan gingerly steps forward in response. As the drama onstage starts to mirror his own life, Dan and his family are forced to finally confront their profound loss. 

You need know very little about me to know that I resonated deeply with Ghostlight. I've said over and over and over again in my life that writing has saved me in profound and undeniable ways. My life has been changed on stage, off stage, by the written word, and in a myriad of other creative ways. Without the arts, I firmly believe I'd have been dead years ago. Watching Kupferer's Dan find community and meaning in this local theater's production, I was reminded time and again of the people who enfolded me when I was barely worth enfolding and who absolutely refused to let go no matter how ugly I became in word and deed. My losses were profound, a wife and a child for example, yet the arts gave me a safe place to grieve, rage, lament, weep, love, and occasionally even laugh. 

There is, of course, a connection between the date of this one-night only production and the family's own experiences, a perhaps obvious yet valuable touch, and O'Sullivan and Thompson don't compromise with the fact that there's no other way but through the darkness. 

I'm honestly blown away by the ability of O'Sullivan and Thompson to weave Romeo and Juliet into this all and to have it make complete sense. It's a new Shakespeare lens and I honestly can't stop thinking about it. It also reminds me why Shakespeare has long been considered one of the greatest playwrights in history - this play, seemingly so familiar, breathes such wonder, healing, truth, and wisdom in its pages. Oh my, I'm in awe. 

I went in blindly to Ghostlight and I have to consider this the best way to experience it. While I've shared its skeletal narrative, I've avoided details precisely because this is a film best experienced without narrative expectations. The fact that the film features three leads who are, in fact, also family, adds a poignant touch in terms of storytelling. 

Keith Kupferer (The Dark Knight, Road to Perdition) gives a mesmerizing performance as Dan, a scene fairly late in the film during the production perhaps one of the very best acted scenes I've seen yet this year. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Katherine Mallen Kupferer is a scene stealer in practically every scene as an angsty, coming-of-age teen who's also dealing with profound life issues. 

Amidst it all is Tara Mallen's Sharon, a seemingly thankless role that could have so easily been one-note yet becomes one of understated grace and perseverance. I honestly can't imagine this film without any of these three performers. 

De Leon, who came to American cinema's attention with Triangle of Sadness, is similarly wonderful here as is Hanna Dworkin as Lanora among others in the terrific ensemble cast. 

There's so much to love about Ghostlight, an unforgettable motion picture and a film that deserves to be mentioned alongside the most meaningful films to address the issue of grief. There's so much wisdom and wonder here that all I want to do is stop writing and watch it all over again.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic