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“Ghostlight” is a sublime, stirring, mesmerizing treaty on the transformative power of art and the connective thread to the human spirit.


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There’s an exemplary review of Ghostlight by Vulture writer Bilge Ebiri with the most apt headline I’ve ever read: Read Only the First Paragraph of This Ghostlight Review.

As he explains, it’s not that this tender and emotionally resonant film is somehow full of shocking twists and turns or some monumental third act reveal that changes everything. It’s a simple film with a simple story.

Co-directed by Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson (Saint Frances) and written by O’Sullivan, Ghostlight makes no attempts to shock you. But it does have the magnificent power to surprise you with how deeply this little unassuming ode to the healing power of art and the triumph of the human spirit can utterly destroy you while uplifting you in the most extraordinary way.

Going in as blind as possible elevates the experience. It gives every moment of this beautiful, soul-stirring film the power to wash over you and sweep you up in its cathartic, emotional tide.

So, I’ll echo Ebiri and offer a similar word of caution. If you are willing to take a leap of faith with me, stop reading now and give a couple of hours of your life to this moving masterpiece—sure to be one of the best of the year.

If you’d like a little more before diving in, read on as I unpack why this film made me sob while reminding me of the transcendent nature of art.

A beautiful opening immediately establishes the film’s treatise: art doesn’t just imitate life; it is the essence of life and what it means to be human.

Dan (Keith Kupferer) is a middle-aged husband, father, and construction worker. It doesn’t take much to see he’s beleaguered and beaten up by life, even before he gets a call from the school where his teen daughter, Daisy (played by Kupferer’s real-life daughter Katherine Mallen Kupferer), is on the verge of expulsion for her problematic behavior and violent outburst.

Dan and his equally exasperated wife Sharon (played by Kupferer’s real-life wife and Katherine’s mom, Tara Mallen) don’t know what to do for their daughter, who seems to be battling a tidal wave of emotions with no healthy outlet.

The school’s principal is surprisingly patient and empathetic, giving us our first big hint that the family is going through something big — just what we don’t yet know. She agrees to bend the rules for Daisy and give her one final chance if she sees a behavioral therapist.

There is talk of lawyers and depositions. Everyone is on edge. Dan explodes at his wife and daughter over a seemingly innocuous flower garden being planted in the front yard. Slowly, little by little, we begin to understand the magnitude of the dark cloud hanging over this loving but fractured family.

It’s not until the film’s stunning climax that we learn the full extent of what they are facing, and, boy, does it pack a wallop.

I won’t spoil it here, but it’s an unimaginable loss that carved a deep pit of sorrow into their world, which everyone, especially Dan, is struggling to climb out of.

On a particularly stressful day, Dan’s world is unexpectedly rocked by an unusual request.

After exploding at a belligerent, habitually reckless driver, Dan is approached by Rita (the scene-stealing Dolly De Leon who first delighted audiences with her unforgettable performance in Triangle of Sadness).

Rita is a member of a community theater group that rehearses at the defunct local movie theater across the street from his construction site. She asks him for help with something and brings him unsuspectingly into a table read for a performance of Romeo and Juliet.

Later, when he asks her why she did it, she replies, “I thought you might want to be somebody else for a while.”

Dan has no intention of returning for the next rehearsal, but something about that strange gathering of misfits — passionately reciting words he doesn’t understand from a play he’s never even read or seen — draws him back.

It’s as if something calls to him, beckoning an outlet for all the things he can’t say and all the emotions he can’t express in real life.

Dan, as we discover, has been incapable of acknowledging any of his pain. He bottles it up and waits for it to explode, either in rage or by shutting down and walking away. It’s driving a wedge between him and his grieving family, a wife and daughter desperate to share something real and honest together.

He does his best to hide his hobby from his family due to shame. But soon, the truth comes to light, and Dan must learn to find his voice — both on and off stage — if he’s going to turn the page on a devasting chapter in his life.

That sounds straightforward and schmaltzy, but it’s much more than meets the eye.

Ghostlight is a story told with such heart, humor, and humanity that I defy you not to be affected by it on a profound level.

The decision to cast a real-life family in the role of the three leads pays off in dividends. Every beat of this film feels deeply lived in and authentic, and it’s easy to invest in their heartbreaking journey to find—as Rita offers Dan when she introduces him to acting—“salvation.”

Katherine plays Daisy in a way that’s explosive and mesmerizing. She’s full of teenage angst and drama, harboring an emotional storm that threatens to consume her. Her coming-of-age torment is exasperated by her unthinkable suffering, and it’s devastating to watch. Yet, she imbues Daisy with so much humor, strength, and passion for life bubbling just below the surface that she is endlessly endearing.

Sharon is in an unenviable role. She is forced to try to hold her family together by a thread and remain a calm beacon in a tumultuous sea as two furious forces of nature orbit around her. It’s a thankless role for Sharon, with her quiet suffering, and Tara sells every minute of it with such understated pathos and power.

Keith’s portrayal of Dan is nothing short of revelatory, a spellbinding performance that sneaks up on you as he slowly peels back layer after surprising layer, shedding his stoic armor.

Watching his defensive walls come down, brick by brick, is so gratifying.

Dan finally breaks during a pivotal scene in the play when the gravitas of the subject matter sinks in, and the parallels to real life hit him like a freight train. He opens up to his fellow actors about the heavy weight on his heart, and it’s emotionally wrenching but gorgeous to watch.

The way his newfound community embraces and uplifts him during his most difficult time will set your heart ablaze.

The entire production is filled with moments of such real and raw emotion that it takes your breath away.

It’s a soaring example of how gifted creators can take a small budget and make a huge impact, crafting a simple story of grief and recovery into an epic Shakesperean-level tale that feels transcendent.

Many scenes were difficult to watch, and I openly wept. Other scenes, especially those involving the loveable cast of oddballs of the theater troupe, made me laugh and left me grinning from ear to ear.

It’s gut-wrenching and extraordinarily beautiful, a tragi-comedy sure to resonate with anyone who has ever faced the darkness of despair and emerged on the other side.

It’s a lover letter to art and the power of stories — through theater and cinema — to unite, heal, and reveal the core of what makes us human. It’s an ode to hope and resilience in the face of tragedy. It’s a testament to the ties that bind, the importance of family, and the power of community to give us strength we never knew we had.

It’s also just about as perfect as a film can be.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 5

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