SUNDANCE: Clara's Ghost Directed by Bridey Elliott
Starring Paula Niedert Elliott, Chris Elliott and Abby Elliott
Published Jan 25, 2018Irony and self-deprecation are defence mechanisms, and while they're most certainly entertaining, they don't absolve sins. Clara's Ghost is a film written and directed by Bridey Elliott, daughter of comedy legend Chris and sister of Saturday Night Live alum Abby, funded on Kickstarter and most certainly playing at Sundance due to some act of nepotism. These facts are all skewered with ironic detachment in the film, but self-awareness doesn't necessarily make Clara's Ghost a worthy pursuit.
Bridey, Abby and Chris play thinly veiled versions of themselves — the daughters are a pair of former child actors whose current career is tempered by the safety net that their father's infamy provides, while their father is a former legend who's struggling to maintain his relevance. They're all self-centred and boorish, constantly wallowing in jealousy while trying to one-up one another's jokes.
Outside of their dynamic is matriarch Clara (Bridey's real-life mother Paula Niedert Elliott). She can't keep up with her family's trained (and often irritating) wit, so she exists in a dream world of online recipes and Facebook cat videos. It's an admittedly familiar character for anyone with a middle-aged mother, and one that is certainly underrepresented onscreen.
When Bridey's weed dealer (Haley Joel Osment) stops by, the family insists he stay for dinner. What follows is a debauched night of binge-drinking and bad conversation. Further, whether it's the alcohol or her own detachment, Clara becomes obsessed with a mysterious woman that haunts her throughout the house. Believing she's possessed, she becomes increasingly erratic.
The lived-in family dynamic onscreen is palpable, as the Elliotts are excellent at achieving electric bouts of comedic banter throughout. Still, Clara's Ghost is fraught with problems. The film's typography and full-frame aspect ratio suggest a hip awareness of contemporary film trends, but the meat of the project is lacking. The acting is occasionally awkward, the shots are amateurish and the plot is lacking cohesion. As a result, the film is occasionally fun to watch, but never really offers a valid reason for why it exists. (Smudge Films)