Every once in a while, a movie comes along that pleasantly surprises you.
The new Christmas movie “Spirited” starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds is a modern musical take on “A Christmas Carol,” with just the right combination of skewering and sentiment.
Ferrell stars as The Ghost of Christmas Present who lobbies Marley (Patrick Page) to choose Clint Briggs (Reynolds), a sleazy media consultant, as their next project, even though he is considered to be unredeemable. The Ghost of Christmas Present has personal reasons for wanting to salvage Briggs, and is willing to risk all, even his status as a ghost, to show that unredeemables can be saved.
Briggs is, of course, totally selfish, self-centered and amoral, and completely resistant to the usual tricks of the trade that any of the ghosts can conjure, and the Ghost of Christmas Present has to think outside the book, if you will, to redeem this wretch.
The casting of this film is key, with Ferrell and Reynolds working at the top of their games. If you had to select an actor/comedian to play the sweet but determined Ghost of Christmas Present, with just the right combination of naivete and bawdiness, it would be Ferrell. And there is no actor I can think of who can play a character of such noxious self-centeredness yet keep him likable and appealing like Reynolds.
Also, there is Octavia Spencer, who plays Reynolds’ right-hand woman and Ferrell’s potential love interest, and who begins to question the person she has become. Spencer is always a welcome presence in any movie, but she simply shines here, with a sweet, awkward sincerity that is quite fetching.
“Spirited” is downright funny, from beginning to end, with numerous opportunities for Ferrell and Reynolds to satirize Christmas movies, traditions, and commercialization (a Sephora dig is especially good).
Oh, and did I mention this is a musical? Not just a movie with music, but a traditional break-into-song-out-of-nowhere musical, with big production numbers and modern, quick-cut choreography. The music is by the prolific song-writing duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “LaLa Land,” “The Greatest Showman”) and is tuneful and humorous, and right in the wheelhouse of a game Ferrell and Reynolds, who prove to be capable singers and dancers. Even Spencer has a signature song, a lovely and wistful tune (“The View From Here”) about the choices we make to get ahead and the lifetime of regret those choices can leave behind.
So, if you’re looking for a fun, rollicking good time at the movies this holiday season for almost the whole family (after all, this is a PG-13 Ferrell/Reynolds movie so there is some risqué stuff here), you can’t go wrong with “Spirited” (in theaters, including Tinseltown in Kenosha, and streaming on Apple TV).