Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Ghostlight (2024) dir. Kelly O’Sullivan & Alex Thompson

Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean


Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson’s beautiful fable of grief, love, and community by way of
local theater is a profound work of postmodernism that gives a keen, compassionate edge to
tragedy. Ghostlight opens with Dan (Keith Kupferer), a grieving father with a subtle stoicism that
hides wrenching worlds of guilt and grief. On top of the perils of his construction work, he is
dealing with disciplinary issues with his passionate, angsty daughter Daisy (Katherine Mallen
Kupferer), and the expensive lawsuit he and his wife Sharon (Tara Mallen) are waging against
the ex-girlfriend and her family of Brian, his son who committed suicide. After an angry outburst
at work, Dan is invited by Rita (Dolly De Leon) to participate in a table read for her community
theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet, because, in her words, it seemed like he would like the
opportunity to be someone else for a change.

Ghostlight is both wholly loving and deeply investigative, ultimately deriving empathy and
forgiveness in the most tragic of circumstances. The film grapples with a Shakespearean sense of
tragedy and the modern weight of grief, seeking to understand the transformative confluence of
the two by way of art and performance. Without giving too much away, the ways in which art
mirrors life here are literal, and they come off more imaginative than cliche, a really fascinating
and empathetic exercise in postmodernism. Members of the Romeo and Juliet cast continually
assert that it is all pretend, but the feelings within the performance, within the play, are so real,
and exceptionally palpable for Dan.

Keith Kupferer gives a truly revelatory performance as Dan, showcasing the weight held even in
his most restrained moments, as well as the slow, beautiful emotional releases and comfort he
begins to find through theater. From blank stares and monotonous line reads, through improv
exercises and awkward dance breaks, and finally to deeply personal moments in acting, Dan’s journey is buoyed by a burgeoning honesty and vulnerability as he grieves his son. Katherine Mallen
Kupferer is riveting as Daisy, with her devastating grief expressed through rebellion and angst.
But it’s Daisy’s enthusiasm for theater that really lets her acting chops shine, fluctuating between
teenage bashfulness and thespian dramatics with humor and sensitivity.

Both are supported wonderfully by Tara Mallen’s performance as Sharon, who balances the
tumultuous stresses in her family with loving conviction and strength. All the familial
connections and tensions are played with brilliant chemistry (it is unsurprising and quite
beautiful that the three are a family in real life as well), and though the grief and stress aches in
their bonds, their undeniable closeness is consistently tangible onscreen.

Rita is the catalyst in this story, demonstrating theater not merely as a transitory stage through
something, but as a pure revolution in one’s life. De Leon carries Rita with such wisdom,
sharpness, and empathy, embellishing a character that holds both leadership and humility, and kindness without oversaturation. Her invitation to Dan begins this transformation, which
uncovers a lightness in him, and provides opportunity for the family to heal.

Ghostlight is achingly intimate and imaginative, breathing in a grounded sense of whimsy that
succeeds through its passion for theater, family, and community. As it investigates the powerful,
transformative abilities of theater, it explores the varied difficulties within grief, and examines
the compassionate, emotional confluence between the two.

dir. Kelly O’Sullivan & Alex Thompson
110 min.

Now playing @ Coolidge Corner Theatre

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