Ghost Town is a romantic comedy with Ricky Gervais in the lead role, here playing Bertram, a dentist who hates everyone else currently alive on the planet. They tire him, they irritate him, and he’s sick of all of them. After a routine colonoscopy results in his temporary death, he starts being able to talk to ghosts, too. So, not only does he have to deal with all of those living individuals, but he also has to listen to ghosts who can’t so easily be ignored. That sounds just terrible, and I could really empathize with him at this point.
One ghost in particular decides to haunt him. We see his death in the film’s opening scene, where we learn that he’s cheating on his wife with a younger woman, before promptly getting hit by a bus. His name is Frank (Greg Kinnear), and he has decided to try to get Bertram to make sure that his wife — whom he still loves despite being unfaithful to her — stops seeing Richard (Billy Campbell), her new beau, because he believes that Richard will steal her money and ditch her, despite having no reason to believe this.
With the promise that all the other ghosts will stop harassing him if he does this one favor, Bertram starts chatting with Frank’s wife, Gwen (Téa Leoni), and the two eventually hit it off, leading to a generic rom-com storyline. The only difference is the ghosts can pop in and out as they please, and Bertram is going to have to learn a little something about living before Gwen will accept him. The ghosts have unfinished business on Earth, Bertram can finish this unfinished business if he stops being so selfish, and you can probably see where this will eventually lead.
The jokes are what make Ghost Town funny enough to be watchable. Having Ricky Gervais, a funny person, play the straight man, while having all of the humor still come from him, works better than you might expect. I loved the deadpan delivery, and I enjoyed watching him in pretty much every scene. He doesn’t work particularly well as a romantic lead, but perhaps that’s part of the jokes as well.
What I didn’t enjoy was the transformation from the snarky, narcissistic individual to whatever he ends up being at the end. I appreciated what Bertram was at the beginning of the film, and didn’t really see much of a reason for him to change what he had been doing. He had a routine, he seemed fairly happy with what he was doing, and he didn’t need other people. Was all that done to mask some inner pain? Probably, but the film doesn’t dive too deeply into this. He changes because he finds love, presumably, but since this is a romantic comedy, how deep can that love truly be, especially because some circumstance will break it up in the middle?
Unfortunately, the whole ghost aspect goes without much use for the majority of the film. Sure, Greg Kinnear’s character shows up every now and then, and he can say whatever he wants because only Bertram can hear him, but all of the other ghosts feel superfluous until they force Bertram to develop as a character. That’s their only reason for being there, and they come and go without much reason.
They’re a crutch, essentially. They can show up and provide some laughs as Bertram tries to avoid them, or they can make him develop as a character. That’s it. They don’t feel like an organic part of the story; they feel shoehorned in. I almost think it might have been better just to have one ghost, the Kinnear character, which would make his situation more unique, and remove the forced elements. That might have helps with the pacing, too, and kept the film to a crisp 90 minutes in length.
I think the funniest moments involved Kristen Wiig’s surgeon, as the scenes where she trades dialogue with Gervais are really enjoyable to listen to. They’re all long takes, too, which leads me to believe that there was a certain amount of ad-libbing going on. That’s fine, as both of them are talented comedians, and often times, that type of improvisation works really well in these types of films. So, yeah, if Kristen Wiig is fun to watch in a movie, take that as a recommendation, I guess.
However, despite it being fairly humorous, it’s still a clichéd rom-com, and if you’re tired of those, this one isn’t so magically good that it’ll make you forget about all of the tired tropes it’s using. All of the clichés are here, the standard formula is used, and I found myself growing tired of the plot soon after it began. You can see where everything’s going as soon as it starts, and while there are definitely some funny moments, I couldn’t help feeling that it would have been funnier had it not been a romantic comedy.
Ghost Town is funny, but it’s also clichéd and occasionally boring. If you enjoy rom-coms, this is one of the better ones, but if you’re not a fan, it won’t change your mind. Ricky Gervais is good in the lead role, playing the straight man doing funny things, but is less than believable as a romantic lead. Still, I laughed a fair bit and I can’t deny that Ghost Town was, for the most part, enjoyable. I can’t give it a heartfelt recommendation, as it’s still a romantic comedy, but it’s a pretty good one that I had fun with.