I’m reading a lot lately, but nothing I feel moved to review…so let’s do another movie this week! I was a little late to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but much later to Ghost…which came out in 1990 and I watched for the first time last week. And I guess it’s appropriate for the day before Halloween!
The movie centers around Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze), who dies early in the film. But he stays around as the ghost of the title, watching his girlfriend Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) mourn for him–which is heartbreaking enough, but it all gets more serious when he realizes foul play is afoot and he needs to warn Molly. He can’t make contact with anyone, until he encounters Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a con artist psychic who is shocked and displeased to make real contact with the spirit world.
In a very strange way, Ghost is two movies. I liked both of them in very different ways, but they’re not the same movie. You see, Demi Moore is acting in a heart-breaking tragedy, while Whoopi Goldberg is in a broad comedy. Patrick Swayze plays off of both of them, adjusting as-needed. Somehow it works–but it’s a slightly odd viewing experience. I’ve seen this before, once. In The Apartment, Jack Lemmon is in a comedy and Shirley MacLaine is in a heavy drama, sometimes literally in adjoining rooms.
As the bereaved girlfriend/partner, Molly’s story is heart-breaking. Everything about the early part of the movie points to beginnings and hopes. Molly is an artist just starting to have small successes; she and Sam move in together into a loft they renovated; they’re talking, with a little uncertainty, about getting married.
Then bam, Sam’s dead and Molly is left alone. The story is sad and Demi Moore’s performance is heart-breaking. The added element is that Sam is there to see it happening, but it would be heart-breaking anyway. Gradually the action part picks up as Sam realizes his death wasn’t the accident it appeared to be, but on some emotional level that doesn’t matter as much–the fact of Molly’s bereavement is what got me emotionally. The rest is just plot.
The plot does propel Sam to Oda Mae/Whoopi (because it’s very much classic Whoopi). And she’s brilliant and funny and so wonderful. Her story arc is equally compelling, a fake psychic who feels extremely indignant when ghosts start actually talking to her. She gets swept into Sam’s story, but even when he’s the plot-driver, she drives the style. Even with Sam theoretically making the plans, her scenes are dominated by Whoopi Goldberg-comedy, full of mutters and exclamations and absurdity, including an inevitable and hilarious turn in disguise.
If I haven’t said it, I enjoyed the movie–I mean, Molly was devastating but in a brilliantly-done way, and Oda Mae was very funny and entertaining. Maybe the movie needs Molly and Oda Mae both because Molly alone would be too sad, and Oda Mae alone would make for a silly but insubstantial movie. The two do meet in more than one scene, and somehow their two very different movies coexist when they’re together.
From an artistic analysis point of view, I’m fascinated by the way the male title character has most of the agency in the plot…and yet, it’s the two female leads who have all the emotional agency in how the movie feels. Fascinating.