Lady of the Manor, 2021.
Written and Directed by Justin Long and Christian Long.
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Judy Greer, Justin Long, Luis Guzmán, Ryan Phillippe, Angela Alise, Nick Morgulis, Patrick Duffy, Cassidy Reyes, Wallace Jean, Lindsay Lamb, Andi Matheny, and Alex Klein.
An aimless ne’er-do-well becomes a tour guide in a historic estate and winds up befriending the manor’s resident ghost.
The joke ratio of hits and misses in Lady of the Manor (the directorial debut of reliable comedic presence Justin Long, collaborating with brother Christian Long behind the camera and on the page) are enough to provide whiplash with their inconsistency. Sometimes it’s funny; other times, it’s outright lame and needlessly crude.
An anachronistic prologue depicts the titular manor in 1855 as something along the lines of a Drunk History sketch (acceptably funny for one scene, and would most likely become grating if the style of humor were played out any longer) where Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer) is unceremoniously murdered by her husband (it’s made to look like an accident) after a dispute over ownership of the home.
Flash forward to the present day where deadbeat stoner, drug deliverer (according to her, it’s not the same as dealing), and hedonist Hannah (Melanie Lynskey giving it her all, even when it comes to the terrible jokes that needed to be excised from the script) is watching a marathon of TV murder mysteries, complete with a juxtaposition of the one just seen. Her partner certainly seems tired of her laziness and lack of ambition, finally deciding to leave her after she accidentally walks into a prostitution sting, forcing her to register as a sex offender, all because she got the address mixed up on where to deliver the kush and gummies.
Hannah’s bad day quickly turns into a golden opportunity as a night of drinking (with Luis Guzmán getting in the occasional amusing quip as the bartender) leads her into crossing paths with similar bum Tanner (Ryan Phillippe). The difference is that Tanner is a Wadsworth living in the titular manor, albeit annoyed that he has to oversee day-to-day operations while his father is away running for mayor. He is the dimwitted type who asks the staff to bring him Starbucks drinks from the kitchen and is forever horny and never respectful. Case in point: he is looking for a new manor tour guide as his first executive decision running the place was to fire the current employee because she had a boyfriend and wouldn’t sleep with him. His face is as equally punishable as his actions. Nevertheless, he gives Hannah the job and sets her up living in the manor.
It’s another job Hannah will not take seriously, prioritizing drugs and sex above everything else. While making a mockery of the tour (often indulging in vulgarity and lies that either generate laughs or sighs), historian Max (Justin Long), taking his class on the field trip, pulls Hannah aside to ask her what’s going on. After a brief conversation about her rough day and unfamiliarity with the history, he forgives her and leaves a business card. Following that, Lady Wadsworth becomes visible to only Hannah as an offended ghost (although there are no effects to speak of, so it just looks like a 19th-century woman doing bad cosplay interacting with her).
Hannah is also attracted to Tanner for no other reason than his handsomeness, paving the way for a problematic scene that’s intended to be humorous, where she decides to freshen up before sex only to come back to him passed out on the bed. This does not stop her from trying to unzip his pants and presumably play with his unconscious body, at least until Lady Wadsworth steps in to chastise pretty much every aspect of this woman’s life. It’s also hard to blame the ghost, and it’s also not hard to blame anyone that decides they are done with Lady of the Manor at this point.
For those that do stick around despite some of the insensitive humor, what ensues is antics of Lady Wadsworth trying to condition Hannah into becoming more ladylike. Although, because of her time and place in history, it also intentionally comes across as regressive and reserved, as if it’s a negative thing to have fun. This also means that Hannah gets to teach a lady Wadsworth the joys of cursing and unwinding with various pleasures. Meanwhile, she struggles with lusting after boneheaded Tanner for his looks even though she also appreciates and likes Max.
If that wasn’t enough plot, the purpose of the opening scene comes around, allowing the third act to transform into a slight mystery and quest to prove something about the owners of the manor. Admittedly, some of the funniest bits come in this stretch (Hannah is not the best at thinking under pressure), but it’s also clear that Justin and Christian Long have no idea what direction they want to take the movie in. Characters with minimum screen time suddenly become essential to the narrative. The humor devolves into the toilet variety, and terrible jokes (such as Hannah playfully accusing Max of having sex with a student) are reused even though they weren’t funny the first time.
Despite all that, the actors themselves are funny, but they and the concept deserve more tightly constructed jokes. A few parts are certainly a hoot, so it’s evident that it could have been done, which makes it all the more ashamed that Justin and Christian Long didn’t refine the weaker sections, tell a more focused story, and eliminate the ill-advised sexually cruel jokes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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