Ghostlight (2024)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Kelly O"Sullivan & Alex Thompson
Run Time
1 hour and 55 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

For my life is spent with sorrow
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,[a]
    and my bones waste away.

Psalm 31:10
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4
Grieving Dan finds healing when he is invited to join a theater group staging “Romeo & Juliet” (c) IFC Films

Live theater can bring healing to the sorrowful, screenwriter Kelly O’Sullivan and co-director (and partner) Alex Thompson seem to be suggesting in this powerful drama. Who would have thought that a group rehearsing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet would have such a profound effect upon a grieving man not even familiar with the play?

Dan Mueller (Keith Kupferer) is a construction worker far better acquainted with a jackhammer than the Bard of Avon. At the very beginning of the film the filmmakers draw a sharp contrast between him and a recording of Curly singing the cheerful song “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!” It soon becomes clear that for the morose blue-collar worker there are no beautiful mornings. At home Dan’s relationship with wife Sharon (Tara Mallen) is weakening, though he still loves her. They are preparing for some kind of a legal hearing that will become clear much later. The two are upset over their 15-year-old daughter Daisy (Katherine Mallen Kupferer) who has been suspended by the school principal over an incident with another student. The rebellious Daisy angrily talks back o the principal but does agree to therapy.

We soon see that Dan also has anger problems when a careless driver comes too close to him while he is digging up street pavement, and Dan assaults him. Bystander Rita (Dolly de Leon) walks up to him and invites him into the vacant store where her community theater group is engaged in a table reading of Romer and Juliet. Troupe director Lanora (Hanna Dworkin) agrees that they can use another reader. Hesitating at first. Dan does go in. His wooden reading of the Lord Capulet part does not discourage Rita, herself in her 50s and a veteran of Broadway.

Without telling Daisy, who had been active in theater at her school, he seeks advice, admitting when talks with her he knows nothing about Romeo and Juliet. Wife Sharon also has been a stage director at the school. He erupts in anger when he comes upon Sharon starting to plant a garden in their back yard. This is where their son Brian had committed suicide, and he apparently feels her walking over the spot a desecration.

He returns to the store where the group is continuing their rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. Rita strikes the much younger actor playing Romeo when he complains that she is too old to be playing Juliet. With help and encouragement Dan’s reading of his part improves, and he is promoted to the role of Romeo. When he sees Romeo and Juliet’s suicide played out, he opens up to the group about his son’s suicide.

Over the course of the rest of the film we learn that Dan and Sharon’s son Brian had been in love with fellow student Christine (Lia Cubilete), and that when her family plans to move far away, the young lovers decided to emulate Romeo and Juliet, but Christine had survived. There is a poignant scene at a carnival where she approaches Dan to apologize, offering him the large stuffed giraffe she had won. He coldly turns away from her without responding and drops the prize in a trash can.

Dan has been lying to his wife and daughter about where he has been spending so much time away from them (and also not revealing that he has been suspended from his job), but they find out anyway. Their initial suspicion of infidelity is soon laid aside, with Daisy approving her father’s participation in the group—and even joining herself, playing the character who introduces the play.

The film can be seen as an insightful tribute to the cathartic power of art, and of the theater in particular. At one point Rita, no doubt drawing from her past professional experience on Broadway, says to one of the actors, “The audience lives through us. We owe them something real.” For Dan, wife Sharon, and daughter Daisy the reality provided by the stage sets into motion the healing so necessary for the salvation of their marriage and family life. Also, a brighter future at school for Daisy in the lively scene in which Daisy sings with a karaoke Oklahoma! ‘s “I Cain’t Say No”

Grief may be the major theme of this film, but the film is by no mans a downer. All of the characters are interesting and mov the plot along. Especially commendable is the way in which of the depiction of the relationship between Dan and Rita is developed—not as a romance but as a mentoring friendship. Dan may not think much of therapists, but in the course of their developing relationship she serves well in that role. The filmmakers script ends in a way affirms the fourth Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

This review will be in the July issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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