In He Said/She Said, critics Joe and Valeska dissect a film in a back and forth exchange. Previously, we tackled the very silly, albeit enjoyable Countdown, which was the definition of mindless youth horror.
This time, we’re aiming for some dry, sardonic wit with Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman’s Irish ghost comedy Extra Ordinary.
Synopsis: Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins), a mostly sweet and lonely Irish driving instructor, must use her supernatural talents to save Sarah, the daughter (Emma Coleman) of widower Martin Martin (Barry Ward) from Christian Winter, a washed-up rock star (Will Forte) who plans on using Sarah in a Satanic pact to reignite his fame.
I barely know where to begin, Valeska! This film is so gosh darn delightful. What a breath of fresh air during these less than ideal times!
I knew of Extra Ordinary because the film traveled the festival circuit fairly extensively last year (I know you reviewed it out of Toronto After Dark), but I hadn’t heard a great deal about it. It seemed like Will Forte was being pushed as the lead and, given my tempestuous relationship with American comedians, I was mildly wary. In hindsight, it makes sense to push the more high profile American in the advertising, but it’s a shame because this film absolutely belongs to Maeve Higgins.
Looking over Higgins’ filmography, she’s hardly a novice, though it does seem like this is her first big high-profile lead gig. And what a revelation she is! There’s obviously something to be said about the film highlighting an actress who isn’t a size zero (and the film even makes a joke about how content Rose is with her body), but the reality is that she’s a highly proficient comic who absolutely commands the screen. I loved how relatable Rose is: she talks to herself (and ghosts), she takes off her pants the minute she gets home and she’s mildly awkward around the guy she has a crush on. There’s plenty of ridiculous comedy embedded in Extra Ordinary, but the film only truly works because you care and invest in Rose as a protagonist.
It doesn’t hurt that she has great chemistry with Barry Ward, who starts off like a bit of a bland, sad sack widower, but eventually gets quite a bit more to do. I liked how both characters start off trying to be something that they’re not: she, a driving instructor and he, a married man. It’s only when they come into contact with each other and they realize that they’re stuck in a rut that they blossom. With that said, I was so happy when Ward is given more to do as the film progresses and he begins to embody the various ghosts they collect ectoplasm from. Not only does the image of him coughing up phlegmy goop into mason jars never get old, but Ward is surprisingly adept at channeling various other personalities. This obviously comes to fruition when he is alternately possessed by the spirit of his dead wife Bonnie for the third act, which results in possibly the best threesome/de-viriginizing climax I’ve maybe ever seen in film?
Valeska, I’ve talked a lot about the performances thus far. What did you think of the main pair, as well as Forte as Christian and scene-stealer Claudia O’Doherty as Christian’s dim-bulb girlfriend, Claudia? Do you have a favourite scene or running gag? And can we talk about how impressive the FX are in this low-budget Irish film?
This film was by far one of my highlights of last year (and made my top ten). I agree with everything you’ve said about Higgins and Ward—I fell irrevocably in love with her in this role and I think both show adept comic timing. Ward’s various portrayals of the film’s motley assortment of spirits were hysterically funny. Forte and O’Doherty also shared some fairly droll scenes together as the film’s villains, modelling a rather hellish-looking relationship. If only she had been more supportive of his dark arts hobby! The performances across the board were pitch-perfect, in my opinion. Also loved Terri Chandler as Rose’s sister, Sailor—the two had a very believable chemistry and I greatly enjoyed their scenes together. Overall, this is a damned charming film that should appeal to a broad audience. And I 100% relate to Rose’s disdain for pants.
In addition to the sterling performances, I also loved the clever script and many of the editing choices. Extra Ordinary delivers not only exquisitely dry and deadpan wit, but some wonderful visuals. To that point, you’re right about the FX. The film doesn’t go overboard with them the way that some supernatural films do (to their detriment, mostly. I won’t name names). Rather, Extra Ordinary focuses primarily on character-building and dialogue, which makes its occasional and rather reserved (though very effective) FX sequences all the more interesting. Floating chips, a playful traffic light, a surprise cigarette…each paranormal encounter delighted me. I was especially enamoured with the character design of the final Big Bad at the end. It was so simple, yet perfect for the tone and tenor of the film.
As for my favourite running gags, you already mentioned the ectoplasm regurgitations (the montage that included the fish and chip parlour was *chef’s kiss*). I also loved Rose and Sailor’s euphemistic descriptions of sex and Rose’s pantomimes. One of my favourite scenes is the sudden surprise queer content during the last bit of the film, an almost throwaway line that had me cheering in the theatre. I also loved any scene where Martin was channeling Bonnie. And the very last scene of the film (which I won’t spoil) was absolute PERFECTION. I couldn’t stop laughing and making heart hands at the screen. I think I sprained both of my hands, actually.
I could keep going on listing nearly every scene in the film, but I’ll stop myself there. What did you think of the editing choices in the film—did you love them as much as I did? What did you think of the familial talent/curse plotline? And are you now craving a chocolate spread sandwich and a seltzer?
The editing and camerawork are both top notch. Ahern and Loughman have a very keen sense of how to use the camera to make their jokes land, but also to sell the emotional empathy for the characters. I particularly liked the moment where Martin reveals he doesn’t need driving lessons and Rose asks him to exit the car: the camera pans over so that he’s no longer even visible as she waits, signalling exactly where our sympathies are meant to lie.
There are so many amazing examples to highlight because the film is replete with them. Early on Claudia accidentally “pops” the first virgin that Christian has secured, but the action occurs completely off-screen so that when we finally see what happens when you awaken someone under the spell (highlighted on the video entry “The Gloating” – lol) the joke lands even more. I won’t even pretend that I didn’t cackle at that reveal.
Even small moments, such as when Christian goes off in search of a new virgin using his “willy stick” (which, of course, has a phallus for a handle) Ahern and Loughman simply train their camera on him as he crosses a field using his divining spell, which entails letting the stick fall, picking it up and letting it fall…six feet at a time.
It’s all just so ridiculously silly and charming. I seriously had a giant smile emblazoned on my face the entire film. And yes, you’re so right, V, that the attention paid to little FX touches only serves to amplify the wonder of the film without sacrificing the focus on characters. I’m so glad that the final baddie worked for you, because as the most ostentatious effect aside from the floating virgins, this could have gone badly off the rails. By keeping the effect so low-key, the climax doesn’t suffer the same kind of bloat that a more traditional, misguided Hollywood effort would have fallen prey to.
So maybe I’ll turn it over to you for the last word. How much would you ravage Rose’s dad’s collection of videocassettes? Do you think that the film is particularly “foreign” in its approach to comedy/horror? Is there a chance that this breaks out given the fact that theatrically exhibited films are currently on hold? And, finally, what’s your score for Extra Ordinary? I’m coming in strong at 9/10.
I love that you mentioned that car scene, because I interpreted the panning as a shift in focus from Martin and Rose to Rose and the (unseen) spirit of her father, which I thought was very subtle and smart.
I’d tear through those videocassettes like a madwoman and you know it, Joe. I’m a sucker for both the supernatural and retro technologies. I’d actually love for an eventual Blu-ray release that contains the entire collection of recordings as a special feature. If we get one (and COVID dies down), ghostly watch party at my place?
Do I find the film “foreign” in its approach? I don’t know that I’d term it thusly, but I do think that it utilizes a very specific approach to comedy that is distinctly British and very tongue-in-cheek. While there have been a few indie horror-comedies on this side of the Atlantic that have taken similarly cheeky approaches to the subject matter, our Hollywood horror films tend to be a lot more obvious, both in terms of the horror and the comedy. I’d almost say it’s more a matter of scale than of foreignness? (Permit me at this point to admit my fondness for Irish accents, though.)
I don’t know if it will break out, even though I wholeheartedly believe it deserves to. I suppose it depends on its marketing and how much word-of-mouth it will garner. I’ve definitely been singing its praises since my first screening, and I have a feeling that you’ll be pushing it on others now, too.
Hopefully, anyone who reads our glowing review will seek it out on VOD and any platforms that carry it (and then immediately tell ten friends to follow suit). Honestly, I cannot recommend it highly enough. 10/10 from me. I was utterly charmed.
For more Valeska, follow her on Twitter and check out Anatomy of a Scream.