The British are coming! Having had Simon Pegg do his best Mr Bean impression in the awful How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, we look to our biggest comedy export, Ricky Gervais. Having chosen his supporting roles carefully (For Your Consideration, Night At The Museum, Stardust), he takes the big leap of appearing in his first lead film role.
Bertram Pincus (Gervais) is not a people person. Spending his life trying to avois conversations with people, dying for seven minutes (slightly less) during a routine medical procedure leaves him with an ability to talk to the dead. This makes him very handy to ghosts with un-finished business, especially Frank (Greg Kinnear), who persuades Bertram to try and break-up his widow’s (Tea Leoni) engagement.
A big reason why this film works is the simple-but-effective story. In essence it’s a twist on the wonderful Groundhog Day (jerk becomes less of a jerk via supernatural happenings), and indeed feels like something Bill Murray would have starred in before he became darling of the indie scene. The script incorporates Gervais but understanding what makes him funny- in most of his work he’s playing a pompous, rude individual with poor social skills, but put into Bertram’s situation it becomes very funny. It also manages to remedy the ‘love-him-or-loathe-him’ aspect of Gervais. Love him? Great, you’ll love this. Hate him? Good, because for a large part of the film you’re supposed to. What you may find happening, however, is that by the film’s close you’ll be rooting for him, and that’s a testament to the achingly funny script as well as Gervais himself.
Gervais could very easily have wilted under such limelight, but in fact he makes this film. He’s not David Brent here, desperate for attention and acceptance, but rather the opposite. His deadpan humour combined with an ability to handle himself in the more serious moments, means he not only presents himself as a serious rom-com lead (!), but suggests he has the diversity to survive in tinsel town. Eternal supporting actor Greg Kinnear revels in his role as the no-good dead husband, but often just plays straight man to Gervais. Likewise, Leoni is simply the love interest, although she does manage to play her character quirkily enough to make you believe her and Bertram are suited.
A downside is perhaps that, inevitably, it’s gets a bit cheesy and a touch predictable towards the end, but still this is a highly entertaining, accomplished romantic comedy. It’s not simply a vehicle to launch Gervais on an American audience, it in fact is a very well made, funny film, and a good sign of things to come from the break-dancing comic.