Making the Grades
Despite the depiction of devils with horns and pitchforks, have you ever wondered what "hell" would be for you? For those who believe in an afterlife, it may be "living" with the regrets of unfinished business and unresolved issues. For others, it may be having a Blackberry without any signal.
All these concerns plague a host of ghosts that Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is suddenly able to see after experiencing his own temporary demise during a medical procedure. Now privy to both sides of the life spectrum, the cantankerous, self-centered dentist is hounded by these trapped spirits eager to tie up the fragments of their lives and move on. Regrettably, Bertram is too consumed by the private purgatory he's created for himself to even begin to think of another's afflictions.
Equating personal interactions to a pestilence, Bertram shuns the kindnesses of others, does all he can to alienate his neighbors and dismisses basic human courtesies. Avoiding eye contact whenever possible, Bertram is openly irritated by one ghost's especially passionate plea for help. Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), it seems, narrowly sidestepped one meeting with death only to be smashed (in a quick but rather shocking on-screen impact) by a speeding bus. Now the disembodied adulterous husband is trying to stop the upcoming marriage of his widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni), to another man.
Hoping to free himself from the pesky phantoms, Bertram finally agrees to help Frank. But when he discovers Gwen is the downstairs neighbor he formerly spurned, his socially awkward attempts to befriend her begin to resemble that of a clumsy adolescent. Still, they do make for laugh-out-loud situations as the graceless doc does his best to turn on whatever smidgen of caustic charm he can muster. There are also poignant moments as Bertram's perspective of others broadens and he begins to recognize the depth of hurt both the living and the dead can carry around.
Unfortunately, many of these insights are marred by short, but often glaring, instances of language, violence and sexual innuendo that include two uses of a strong, sexual expletive along with a surplus of other profanities, vulgarities and jokes aimed at ethnic and religious sects. Equally self-indulgent, Frank badgers Bertram by modifying the doctor's last name into a crude nickname that he repeats throughout the film. Even Gwen's work with mummified bodies opens the door for an extended gag about a preserved part of the male anatomy. Fortunately a naked ghost who repeatedly shows up has the sense to keep his body parts cleverly covered.
Yet for all of Bertram's bungling, narcissistic ineptitude in dealing with people, there are those who can see beneath his hardened shell. Especially commendable is Bertram's dental partner, Dr. Prashar (Aasif Mandvi), who forgives the mordant-mouthed physician and pushes him onto the path of improved human relations. Other characters also change for the better as they deal with the sting of unexpected death or the departure of a loved one.
In Ghost Town, as well as elsewhere, it appears that easing some kinds of human suffering might be as simple as offering a listening ear and lending a hand.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Ghost Town.
The philosopher Philo of Alexandria once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” What does Bertram discover about the female client from his dental office? What is her “great battle”? How does getting a broader view of her life change his feelings about her actions?
What kinds of closure were the characters, both living and dead, in this film seeking? How can unresolved issues affect a person? What is Gwen’s unanswered question?
Bertram believes that a person lives alone, stays alone, and dies alone. Is loneliness sometimes a choice? How can a person overcome feelings of isolation?