‘Clara’s Ghost’ Review: A Family of Performers, a Night of Hysteria | Modern Society of USA

‘Clara’s Ghost’ Review: A Family of Performers, a Night of Hysteria

‘Clara’s Ghost’ Review: A Family of Performers, a Night of Hysteria

“Clara’s Ghost” introduces its main character in a moment when she is desperate, discombobulated and on a mad mission to retrieve a lost shoe. Clara’s anxiety is curious rather than contagious, at once funny and sad and a little unnerving. Her disconcerting presence provides the first signal of the elusive and intriguing film to follow. Clara’s loopy voice is soothing and her face looks familiar, as if she were a beloved character actress with a thousand credits to her name.

This is not the case. Clara Reynolds isn’t a professional performer. Neither is the woman who plays her, Paula Niedert Elliott — though like her character, she is married to a comedian (Chris Elliott of “Cabin Boy”) and their two children are actresses. With her real-life family as her co-stars, and her daughter Bridey Elliott as the film’s writer and director, Paula steals the spotlight in a story that reflects, warps and magnifies the thorny dynamics of showbiz households.

Clara is the long-suffering wife of Ted (Chris), a comedian whose career has floundered. They have two daughters, Julie (Abby Elliott) and Riley (Bridey), who are each struggling to establish adult careers after child stardom. As the whole family convenes on their dog’s birthday, Clara is relegated to become the butt of her loved ones’ jokes. Disoriented and disempowered, she begins to have visions of a wild woman (Isidora Goreshter) who offers an escape from the role Clara plays in her family of professional clowns. Clara suspects that her raving visitor is a ghost, especially since she only appears to Clara — but this specter is warmer than the egomaniacal Reynolds family, and Clara does not resist divine intervention.

Clara’s private, phantasmal liberation signals the influence of the John Cassavetes film “Opening Night,” but Bridey’s images do not aspire to the sensuousness of that inspiration. The Reynolds’ house may be haunted, but it does not look foreboding — in fact, it’s hard to think of any shot that is memorable in any way. Over time, this visual slackness proves to be a sinuous strength. It prevents the film from indicating its intentions, which would remove the mystery from the tense relationships it depicts. As is perhaps appropriate, given the comic occupations of the Reynolds (and the Elliott) family, this unusual, unsettling and terrific little film presents itself not as a domestic opera, but as a family comedy.

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