Extra Ordinary is a genuinely exciting debut that delivers a charming, standout comedic lead turn from Maeve Higgins.
Writing-directing duo Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman and star Maeve Higgins make an auspicious feature film debut with Extra Ordinary, an Irish horror-comedy that can best be described as Wes Anderson’s Ghostbusters. Absurdly deadpan, the film follows a driving instructor and former paranormal investigator named Rose (Higgins) who is called back into action after her small Irish hamlet becomes a center for demonic activity. Rose feels responsible for the death of her father, a famous ghost hunter himself who, years ago, was run over by a truck after becoming possessed by the spirits of both a dog and a mud puddle, his daughter unable to recite the proper incantation in time to save him. Rose now prefers to spend her days alone, eating frozen lasagna-for-one and pantlessly bouncing up and down on a medicine ball in her kitchen. Her life is turned upside down when she meets both Martin Martin (Barry Ward), a handsome widower being harrassed by the spirit of his dead wife, and rock star Christian Winter (Will Forte), a former one-hit wonder whose plans for a creative and financial comeback involve sacrificing a virgin to demonic forces.
That all of this is played completely straight-faced — save for a few, brief winking nods here and there — isn’t all that surprising, as detachment has become the most common trait of the 21st-century comedy. What sets Extra Ordinary apart is Ahern and Loughman’s genuine affection for both the genre films that inspired it and their lead character, a multi-faceted female protagonist who is never made out to be the butt of the joke for an easy laugh. She is a clever, capable, sexual woman forced to overcome self-doubt, and as is made clear in the film’s fantastic last line, she is not somebody who finds her worth in a man — she is her own person, flawed but fantastic. The film as a whole adopts the rhythms of Higgins’s inspired lead performance, focused yet charmingly off-kilter. It bears the suggestion of Edgar Wright’s 2004 zom-com Shaun of the Dead, operating something like its less-caffeinated cousin. Ahern and Loughman, long-time commercial and music video directors in Ireland, bring an artist’s eye, using screen space to inspired comedic effect, such as an extended bit involving a car chase and a floating virgin. Their detail-oriented portrait of this ghost-riddled rural village grounds the proceedings in unexpected ways, and they get game performances from their entire cast, including Forte, who chews the scenery in the most delightful of ways, sometimes simply by slipping off a pair of gloves. Extra Ordinary may not be entirely original, but it is wholly entertaining, enough to build genuine excitement for the directing duo’s next effort, particularly if they bring breakout Higgins along for the ride.
Published as part of March 2020’s Before We Vanish.