de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

William Shakespeare’s works continuously prove timeless, even in unsuspecting ways. This concept is one of the core tenets of Ghostlight, a dramedy by Alex Thompson (Rounding, Saint Frances) and debuting feature director Kelly O’Sullivan. Of course, there is much more to this captivating and emotional film, which initially appears just as unassuming as its strait-laced protagonist. What unfolds is a bewitching combination of classic literature and a modern take on suppressed emotions and grief.

Ghostlight follows Dan Mueller (Keith Kupferer), a middle-aged construction worker whose son committed suicide a year before the film’s events take place. Dan’s daughter, Daisy (Katherine Mallen Kupferer, Keith Kupferer’s actual daughter), acts out in school, nearly getting expelled. The mother, Sharon (Tara Mallen), tries to hold everything together despite her daughter’s rash behavior and her husband’s inability to process his emotions effectively.

Ghostlight - Dan

Courtesy of IFC Films

One day, after Dan rages at an oncoming driver, stranger Rita (Dolly De Leon) invites him into the local theater house across the street from Dan’s job site. The actors there welcome him into their cut-rate production of Romeo and Juliet, and Dan finds himself inexplicably drawn back to their practice sessions again and again. Meanwhile, his family prepares for a deposition with their late son’s girlfriend and her parents, whom they blame for his death.

It quickly becomes apparent that acting in the play helps Dan and his family in numerous ways. For example, he can connect more closely with Daisy, an aspiring theater actor herself, and the play offers Dan an outlet for his confusion and other subdued emotions. Eventually, Dan’s role also helps him to understand his son’s motivation for taking his own life. The parallels between Romeo and Juliet and Dan’s own life offer a fascinating perspective on the grief of losing a child and showcase how therapeutic art can be in healing oneself.

Ghostlight - Dan and Daisy

Courtesy of IFC Films

In this way, Ghostlight is a beautiful example of a family bonding over shared tragedy and the selfless gestures of strangers. Kelly O’Sullivan’s script is poignant, tender, and inspiring, even if it lacks laughs when billed as part comedy. The cast, particularly Keith and Katherine Kupferer, do an excellent job playing with the range of emotions necessary to communicate the film’s messaging, especially between its two worlds of Romeo and Juliet and “real life.”

Besides those elements and Thompson and O’Sullivan’s confident direction and vision, the film is somewhat plain. The directors undoubtedly want to embody realism, provided the subject matter, and succeed there. Still, one has to wonder if its lapses into the world of Shakespeare would not benefit from more creative technical ideation and execution. Regardless, Ghostlight is a magnetic and unique journey through the grieving process that will effortlessly cause feelings to bubble to the surface; its story and relatable characters make up for any other shortcomings, resulting in one of 2024’s most low-key but delightful dramas.

Ghostlight is now playing in theaters.

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