Bridey Elliott casts her comedian-actress sister (Abby Elliott), her character-actor father (Chris Elliott), and herself as three members of a preening showbiz family. But the title role in Clara’s Ghost is played by the director’s mother (Paula Niedert Elliott), whose character is, like the actress portraying her, not a celebrity. The film plays like a therapy session; the estranged family reunites (to celebrate their dog’s birthday), and what starts as light bickering devolves into near-lunacy. To manifest the extent of Clara’s emotional distress within this dynamic, Elliott often resorts to obvious jabs at the toxic vanity of celebrity culture. That perspective seems justified in the context of this meta-experiment of a film, but it also hampers a sense of emotional resonance — and makes for frustratingly blunt humor.
What elevates Elliott’s film are some occasional aesthetic flourishes: In an early scene, a montage of Clara dancing abruptly changes its tone by silencing the film’s score, and turning what was an energized montage into a pathetic expression of loneliness. Generally, Clara’s Ghost doesn’t imbue its ideas with enough nuance, but there’s still a refreshing authenticity and understanding to the dynamic being explored — even despite the obnoxious, bound-to-embody-the-pitfalls-of-fame family-tribe at the film’s center.
Published as part of BAMcinemaFest 2018 | Dispatch 1.