I’ve never liked Ricky Gervais. The politest thing I could have ever possibly said was that he was lower on my list of celebrities I’d like to hit than others, but even this was due to the simple fact that he was more easily avoidable.
Surprisingly, all it apparently took for me to change my opinion, was for him to make a full-length feature.
Curmudgeon and misanthropic dentist Bertram Pincus (Gervais), realizes after a routine colonoscopy that he died for close to seven minutes. With his revival seems to have come a myriad of souls who for whatever reason are trapped in spectral form, in need of help an answers, something he is slow to grant. A ghost named Frank (Greg Kinnear), promises to help Bertram escape them – if he can break up the engagement of his widow Gwen (Téa Leoni) and Richard (Billy Campbell). A fact not helped by Pincus’ routinely priggish interactions with her.
Headed by the unlikeable Gervais who tries his best to be a hermit in upscale Manhattan, there is a real charm and warmth to the piece. He pulls off a large coup himself in how he, a man I at least find charmless can ellicit empathy so quickly, altering our perception of him beyond the mere antihero. Although the backstory is perhaps well worn, he slips into it without any pretense or awkwardness (besides that required of him). Gervais has also finally fine-tuned his comic sensibilities, melding two completely differing tradditions into something that would alienate few, save perhaps those who do not like their comedies bittersweet.
This is perhaps a more complex version of the character portrayed by Kinnear, who despite a lack of overall investment in his character, radiates enough charm and “awww shucks” looks to keep us from becoming tired of his intrusions.
Leoni is equally as out-of-synch as Gervais, a nervous and slightly eccentric archeologist grieving the death of her husband.
The real poineancy comes in the form of her being able to juggle so many feelings and affections without it appearing disingenuous or scattered to the audience.
Supporting roles are filled with cameos by well known comedians, perhaps most entertainingly Kristen Wiig, who relishes every moment on screen, wrestling the attention from everyone else around her if even for the briefest of moments. Perhaps the most redundant is Campbell’s Richard, either due to writing or the stiffness of acting, it’s at best possible to laugh at it him, not with.
Overall, the realisation of each role is greater than they would appear on the page. Despite simplicity of story, there is a large breath within which this could have quickly become stale but save perhaps one or two instances, there is no damage wrought. Most of all however, Gervais has finally found a potential mainstream but far from populist way in which to market his emerging brand.