Witty, charming and — above all — good-natured, Irish comedy/horror film Extra Ordinary is a sweet and very funny exploration of relationships between the living and those who have passed on. The feature-length debut from Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman also uses its spirits to ask deeper questions about how and why we show up in the world for each other and for ourselves.
Lonely and plain, 30something protagonist Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins of “StarTalk,” who steals the show) has turned away an accomplished career as a ghost hunter (and child prodigy) to become a driving instructor. The reason? The death of her father, hyperconfident and renowned paranormal investigator Vincent Dooley (TV actor Risteard Cooper), due to an unfortunate — and hilarious — accident during her childhood involving a ghostly portal and a dog, for which Rose blames herself.
Years later, Rose is still screening her calls to avoid seemingly constant requests to help out with her small community’s significant spirit problem. The decision to leave her true talent behind has rippled out across her entire life and left her isolated and reclusive, so when handsome widower Martin Martin (Barry Ward, Jimmy’s Hall) comes to ask for help with his vituperative dead wife — whose spirit won’t vacate his house — she’s hesitant but intrigued. After Martin’s daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) becomes the sacrificial target of hammy one-hit musical wonder Christian Winter (“SNL” alum Will Forte, loving every moment of his role), who needs to sacrifice a virgin and make a demonic pact to reclaim his lost fame, the two quickly become a team — and maybe something more.
Extra Ordinary is heaps of fun, from Vincent’s vintage TV segments — which, to my great delight, pop up throughout the (short and sweet) 90-minute run time — to Rose’s relationships with living characters, like Martin and her elfin sister Sailor (Terri Chandler), to the dead, who show up in all manner of forms, including dancing branches, animated power cords and, more traditionally, clad in white sheets.
The movie quickly develops its own litany of hilarious inside jokes. Christian’s single hit, “Cosmic Woman,” is as absurd as it sounds. Martin’s wife abuses him from beyond the grave by forcing him to wear the same white dress shirt every day and punishing him for incorrectly loading the dishwasher. (Her eventual possessions of Martin, complete with a cockney accent and constant cigarette, bring out the best in Ward.) And Rose’s constant fretting about the harm she’s done or could do, like worrying over whether she’s committed “dad-slaughter,” works to inject dark humor while also making her even more endearing.
Reveling in its own ridiculousness becomes both a strength and weakness of the film: I so loved the budding relationship between Rose and Martin that the demonic plot — especially the silly conversations between Christian and his spoiled wife Claudia (Claudia O’Doherty, Trainwreck) — got a little distracting. But I’d come back any time to visit these characters, and I hope we get to see a lot more of what the filmmakers and actors — Higgins especially — can do.
Starts March 13 at the Fine Arts Theatre