When Rita ("Triangle of Sadness's" Dolly De Leon) witnesses a construction worker, Dan (Keith Kupferer, "Widows"), have a public meltdown over a speeding driver, she approaches him, acting like she needs help.  He follows her and finds himself in a read-through for a community production of ‘Romeo and Juliet and the man who has been growing distant from his wife and daughter will become the reason for the theater’s “Ghostlight.”

Laura's Review: B

A ghostlight is the one bulb left burning after the theater goes dark, a superstition about keeping ghosts happy and driving away the mischievous ones and there is certainly a ghost hovering over the Mueller family although we will not learn what is haunting them until about halfway through the film.  “Saint Francis” writer/star Kelly O’Sullivan, who also wrote this latest, co directs with that film’s director Alex Thompson and if there is a flaw to report here it is only that this may be just a bit too on the nose paralleling Shakespeare’s tragedy to Dan’s. 

After we meet Dan nearly getting sideswiped by a car his coworker tries, but fails, to identify, we next see him sitting with his wife Sharon (Tara Mallen) and teenaged daughter Daisy (Keith's daughter Katherine Mallen Kupferer, "Widows") in Daisy’s principal’s (Charín Alvarez, "Saint Francis") office where they learn she is to be expelled for assaulting a teacher.  Daisy, fond of the ‘F’ word, insists she did nothing wrong, stomps out of the building and stands in the middle of the street screaming at the car that stops.  Later, Dan sits with Daisy at Sharon’s after school drama recital, her class singing a song about coming to turns with anger which Daisy critiques as amateurish.

While Daisy goes to a therapist in a bid to get back into school, Dan finds himself slipping out to join in on the community theater, and while Daisy is frustrated trying to get her dad to express his emotions to her therapist, he finds that he readily does to his new friends when given direction by Lanora (Hanna Dworkin) that hits too close to home.

“Ghostlight” is about the therapeutic properties of art.  It is notable that Sharon is the Mueller family member who appears to be the most well adjusted after tragedy, but her attempts at normalcy are rebuffed by Dan, who rejects her in the bedroom and has an outsized reaction to her installation of a flower bed.  Dan’s involvement with the local group is at first misinterpreted by Sharon and Daisy when they see him hugging Rita on the street, but once they are admitted into his world, he opens up to them and the family begins to heal, Daisy even joining his troop after knocking out his new friends with her very professional rendition of ‘I Cain’t Say No.’

But while these two sides of the story work well, the tragedy itself has been muddled, a young woman, Christine (Lia Cubilete), being taken to court for reasons left obscure while the lawsuit itself is given plenty of screen time, the Mueller’s lawyer, Jim (Bradley Grant Smith, "Saint Francis") going over their depositions.  And in truth, it is a little hard to believe Dan, whose wife works in the school drama department, would be unfamiliar with the story of ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ having to be shown the ‘old’ movie (the DiCaprio/Danes one) by Daisy, then requesting the theater group change its ending.

The Kupferer father/daughter duo finds each acting to opposite extremes, Dan taciturn yet given to sudden outbursts, Daisy challenging and cursing at everything in her path.  Mallen is the great stabilizing force, the three well cast and well balanced.  They’re beautifully offset by the theater troupe, De Leon a force of nature as the perceptive professional actor, Dworkin Mallen’s theatrical counterpart.  Another contrast is offered by Alma Washington and "The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain’s” Dexter Zollicoffer as the play’s Nurse, comforting in real life, and Friar Lawrence, the most flamboyant cast member.

In his feature debut, cinematographer Luke Dyra sticks mostly with medium shots, going in for extreme close-up for a moment of reestablished marital intimacy.  Linda Lee’s production design establishes the quality of a ‘big’ small town (the film was shot north of Chicago), with family owned businesses inhabiting a busy center, the theater company’s space clearly in need of more funding.  Quinn Tsan’s score is a lightly applied magical touch.

Robin's Review: B+

Warning - some may believe the below review contains spoilers...

Dan (Keith Kupferer), his wife Sharon (Tara Mallen) and daughter Daisy (Katherine Mallen Kupferer) suffered the loss of son and brother Brian in a tragic suicide. Then, Dan loses his job due to his bottled up rage. With nowhere to go, he stumbles on a little community theater group and it becomes the catharsis to reunite the tiny family in “Ghostlight.”

First time feature writer-director Kelly O’Sullivan and third-time helmer Alex Thompson put together a charming family story that, before any of the characters opened their mouths, had the distinct feel of a Brit film by Ken Loach. All that is needed is the cast you have English accents and the cars have the steering wheel on the wrong side. And, I mean this as a high compliment to the filmmakers.

When they lost Brian, a year ago, the family was devastated. Following the death, they sued the family of Brian’s girlfriend, Christine (Lia Cubilete), who failed in their co-suicide attempt. Now, the legal wheels are turning with depositions and court dates, adding another dimension to the family problems.

Then, while Dan wanders aimlessly and unemployed, He meets Rita (Dolly De Leon), a little firecracker of a woman who runs the local community theater group putting on “Romeo and Juliette.” She invites him to join her small crew of volunteers and, reluctantly, he gets drawn in. As he gets more comfortable, Rita promotes him to the role of Romeo.

One day, Sharon and Daisy see Dan, from a distance, with Rita. Wrong conclusions are immediately come to and Daisy puts him under surveillance. Soon, she understands what is going on and joyfully joins the troupe. Soon, she brings Sharon into fold, who happens to know of a venue where they can put on the play - for free.

How we get to this happy conclusion is the meat of “Ghostlight,” with the Mallen-Kupferer family and Dolly De Leon providing a fully developed family of real people. The quartet of stars, though, are not alone. The small cast of supporting characters, mainly the cast of the play, also feel like real people with real character.

I think we may have the new Barrymores with the Mallen-Kupferer family. There is so much obvious chemistry and talent among them I see good things for each and all. Direction, by O’Sullivan and Thompson also has an organic feel with the actors given free rein to give their best.

IFC Films opens "Ghostlight" in NY and Chicago theaters on 6/14/24, expanding on 6/21/24.