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Ghostlight: Film Review

a man and a woman hug in the 2024 film Ghostlight

Art can help process tragedy in “Romeo and Juliet” dramedy Ghostlight, an emotionally resonant film that will stay with you for a long time. 

Ghostlight follows Dan (Keith Kupferer), who is grieving an immense family tragedy along with his wife Sharon (Tara Mallen) and his daughter Daisy (Katherine Mallen Kupferer). This tragedy has hit each of them very differently, leaving Dan to feel especially isolated, deflecting a lot of his emotions. He finally starts to process his grief when he meets Rita (Dolly de Leon), who convinces him to join a community theatre production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

There have been endless grief dramas that are manufactured to make you cry throughout, but my favorite part of Ghostlight is the amount of comedy in it. Screenwriter Kelly O’Sullivan has a mastery of tone, giving audiences 50% grief drama and 50% theater-based comedy. It’s very difficult to put humor in tragic stories like these, because it can feel misplaced or way too forced, but in Ghostlight, the humor only makes the characters feel more realistic

This film also has one of the best ensemble out of any movie I will see this year. The theatre troupe that Dan’s a part of is filled with quirky and hilarious characters, who each get their own time to make the audience laugh. Dolly de Leon gives a brilliant performance as a retired stage actor and, just like in Triangle of Sadness, she steals almost every scene she’s in. On the dramatic side, the three members of the family are near perfect. Dan and Daisy dominate the narrative, having the most screen time, but Sharon carriers the emotional weight of the third act. There is one look she gives at the end of the film where you could feel the entire audience start to cry in unison. 

Keith Kupferer’s portrayal of Dan is a rare leading performance that I’m unsure if any actor will top this year. Dan’s method of coping with his loss is by not talking about it, and avoiding situations where he will have to confront his past. In doing so, we get to watch Dan’s growth into acceptance, which is a beautiful yet heartbreaking arc to witness.

Ghostlight Trailer (IFC Films)

However, Katherine Mallen Kupferer’s performance is the standout for me. There have been endless portrayals of the angsty teen that goes against their parents expectations. In recent years, I’ve found that authentic portrayals of this character type are getting harder to find, but Kupferer’s performance as Daisy is as real as it gets. Not only does she get some of the biggest laughs from the audience, but she also delivers a monologue that is one of the most moving parts of the entire movie. 

Finally, one of my favorite parts of cinema is when it has the power to evoke a new emotion in me that I haven’t felt before. I’ve never done theater or acted in the past, so watching Dan put all of his pain into a performance is such a powerful journey to witness. Art has always been understood as a healing process, but I’ve never seen a film that has showcased this process on such a personal level. 

Overall, while Ghostlight isn’t perfect, it is truly a special film. It not only provides a beautiful emotional journey for a grieving family, but also serves as an encouragement for people who may not not have considered participating in the arts previously. This may not be my favorite film of the year, but it’s one that will surely stay with me for a long time

Ghostlight premiered at 2024 the Sundance Film Festival and will be released in New York and Chicago on June 14, 2024, followed by a nationwide expansion. Read all our Sundance reviews!

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