In LADY OF THE MANOR, Hannah is at rock bottom. A stoner, a slacker, and depressingly single, when Hannah is dumped by her boyfriend and in need of a job she stumbles upon a strange opportunity. Her new gig is as a tour guide of the historic Wadsworth Manor, portraying the Manor’s famous former owner Lady Wadsworth. With no prospects nor passion, Hannah is content to half-ass the role… that is until the ghost of Lady Wadsworth appears to her and insists on the dignity of a faithful portrayal. The deadbeat and the dead mistress strike up an unlikely friendship and end up stumbling upon a centuries-old injustice that must be brought to light.
LADY OF THE MANOR is the first feature directorial debut by Justin Long and Christian Long. The supernatural buddy comedy stars Melanie Lynskey as Hannah and Judy Greer as the Lady Wadsworth. Justin Long, Luis Guzmán, and Ryan Phillippe finish out the impressively stacked comedic ensemble.
As comedic fare, LADY OF THE MANOR is as light as a spirit orb. Though quirky and a tad on the silly side, LADY OF THE MANOR doesn’t take itself too seriously and is content to bounce along at its chose gait. There’s a core of sweetness in the friendship of Hannah and Lady Wadsworth that makes for a string of delightful vignettes. It’s fun, plain and simple. The film’s slightly spooky premise gives it the sort of seasonal flare that may bring viewers back for a second helping of the supernatural shenanigans.
Tonally, LADY OF THE MANOR hits a dissonant note. On a story and presentation level, this film practically begs to become a family Halloween favorite. The violence and mischief are minimal, the cloak and dagger mystery is simple and easy to follow, and the tomfoolery of Greer and Lynskey comes off as lovable and playful. Of course, those more wholesome and inviting elements are punctuated with jarring drug humor, painful to watch sex scenes, and vulgarity that feels incredibly out of place.
Dear Reader, there is nothing wrong with a little blue humor. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with writing an all-out ghostly sex comedy. But that is not the impression that LADY OF THE MANOR gives. Rather, the film seems split on what audience it is targeting and therefore fails to be suitable for either adults or family viewing audiences.
It is a godsend that Lynskey and Greer find such a natural ease in their portrayed friendship, because chemistry is an essential ingredient that is sorely missing in LADY OF THE MANOR. While it is unclear who’s to blame – the writing or the performances – so much of the film is wooden. There is no magnetism between lovers and love interests. The villains are more grating than dastardly. All across the narrative, vital connections are missing. The only relationship in this movie that conveys clearly is the goofy, girlish antics of Hannah and Lady Wadsworth.
As mentioned at the outset, LADY OF THE MANOR is not endeavoring to be overwhelmingly complicated. Anchoring the film is a single line of intrigue – the mystery behind the truth of Lady Wadsworth’s death and the campaign for justice when it is discovered that her will was tampered with. Each character in this film is given a thread to attach themselves to this greater story and there is hope that as the film pulls each thread, exciting new discoveries will unravel. It more fizzles than unravels though.
The mystery elements are what make LADY OF THE MANOR exciting and give every character a purpose and set of stakes. Yet the mystery is never expanded nor seen through to its greatest potential. The resulting effect is like being trapped in a murder-mystery party scenario: You’re only given the bare minimum to put together a grand narrative and absolutely no one is 100% committed to selling this. The fact that the film teases such a simmering deception makes it all the more disappointing when it falls flat.
To put it plainly: LADY OF THE MANOR is nothing if not cute. As a buddy-comedy, there are some tender moments and truly funny scenes that make Lynskey and Greer a joy to watch. Unfortunately, all of that sincere joy is weighed down by several missteps and narrative distractions that lead to nowhere. LADY OF THE MANOR is regrettably cursed by blandness.
LADY OF THE MANOR will be haunting in Select Theaters, on Digital, and On-Demand on September 17th! It will then be available on Blu-ray and DVD September 21st!