While it is tempting to think of A GHOST WAITS as merely one of the best love story involving a ghost since THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, there is a great deal more going on director/co-writer Adam Stovall’s witty, cinematically rich, yet philosophically dense effort. At the risk of being accused of overthinking it, one might even say that it does the seemingly impossible by injecting themes of the proletariat struggle into an irresistible, even, ahem, haunting love story
Co-writer MacCleod Andrews is Jack, a guy who is too nice for his own good. As we join him in his latest task for a property management company, he is trying to find one friend who will take him in while his apartment is being fumigated. With no respite, even from the “friend” who has an unused guest room, he bunks at the house he’s cleaning after the last tenants left without taking their things. That they didn’t own a couch is one of the many random bits of whimsy with which this dark comedy is infused, including whether or not pizza delivery is a young man’s game.
In addition to scrubbing and repairing, Jack’s been asked to figure out why tenants keep breaking their lease. It doesn’t take long for the answer to, further ahem, materialize. After phantom doorbell rings, the sounds of babies crying, and disappearing pizza, it becomes clear that the house is haunted, and by a ghost who has a knack for getting under a hauntee’s skin. Hence Jack confronting a judgmental simulacrum himself in a dream, during which the relative scariness of clowns is parsed, and the simulacrum is stymied by Jack’s gentle humanity.
The ghost Muriel (Natalie Walker in a wonderfully understated performance), who finally materializes to Jack in her all her dour and black-clad glory when her unseen efforts fail to make him flee the house, at least not permanently. Worse, and to Muriel’s increasing frustration, when she appears, Jack is more interested in what it’s like to be dead, and whether or not she’s met Johnny Cash on the other side, that in letting her up the terror ante. In a classic, but not cloying, rom-com meet-cute move, the two talk into the night and feelings that neither of them should be experiencing begin to manifest.
Of course, it can’t last. Jack’s boss wants the clean-up job finished, and Muriel has her own issues with the post-life hierarchy that includes a supervisor who damns with faint praise and with less faint threats about performance reviews and consequences. Although the film never answers the question of its existence, if there is a hell, the stultifying office décor of that supervisor’s office must be one of its special corners. When Jack and Muriel begin to see that it’s their bosses who are at odds over the situation, and not they themselves, that romance truly blooms, and the two join forces to stay together.
Filmed in evocative black and white, the film takes hoary tropes and makes them not just fresh, but dynamic with smart direction and a performance from Andrews that hits all the right emotional notes with fine undertones of complexity and heart. Throughout there is boyish sweetness tempered with soulful loneliness. When Jack engages the toilet he’s cleaning in conversation, his comic timing is impeccable, but the sadness is there, too, along with the bewilderment about why he’s so alone in the world.
A GHOST WAITS is more than mere opposites attract as it also puckishly addresses such fundamental questions as happiness and the necessity of, if you will forgive the cliché, following your bliss. Daring, original, and as unpredictable as it is invigorating, this is a paean to love whose very unconventionality makes it all the more perfect.