Review: ‘Ghostlight’

Alex Thompson And Kelly O'Sullivan Invite You To The Healing World Of Community Theater In This Moving Dramedy

Ghostlight lets you know its theater roots from its opening scene. As Dan (Keith Kupferer), a middle-aged construction worker, wakes up at the crack of dawn to head to his site, a tinny version of Oklahoma’s “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” plays over the scene. It might seem clićhe in any other movie, but it sets the tone early that this film will balance a grounded reality with a clever sense of humor. 

Written by Kelly O’Sullivan, who co-directed with her husband Alex Thompson, Ghostlight takes a look at Dan’s inner life as he decides to enter the local theater community. At work, he is struggling with disassociation and anger episodes. At home, his relationship with his wife, Sharon (Tara Mallen) is deteriorating under the pressure of a lawsuit and his daughter Daisy’s (Katherine Mallen Kupferer) emotional outbursts in the wake of a family tragedy are pushing him further into loneliness. Unwilling to address his own feelings, an outburst at work leads local actress Rita, (Dolly De Leon) to recruit him for her community theater group’s production of Romeo and Juliet

A veteran Chicago theater actor, Keith Kupferer takes O’Sullivan’s and Thompson’s tragicomedy and transforms it into a performance that is engaging and raw. You don’t always agree with his choices but Kupferer’s macho vulnerability endears you to him. One important note is that Dan’s entire family is played by Kupferer’s family. You can feel the connection between the three actors, adding layers of history and authenticity to the project. 

Dolly De Leon, who broke out for American audiences in Triangle of Sadness, is fearless as Rita. Matching Kupferer’s own energy, she expertly guides Dan and the audience into this world. You can feel Rita’s own regrets and insecurities about playing Juliet at an older age bubbling beneath her performance. 

Bringing humor and warmth is the theater troop played by Hanna Dworkin, H.B Ward, Tommy Rivera–Vega, Alma Washington, and Dexter Dworkin. Lia Cubilete steps in for two scenes, delivering an emotionally charged performance that is brief but astonishing. 

O’Sullivan brilliantly twists humor and tragedy into a story that feels overwhelming human and answers the question of why people need art and community. Constantly alluding to the Shakespeare play performed in the show, her writing is rich in subtext. The pacing lags in the final act and a good ten minutes could be trimmed from the runtime, but overall, O’Sullivan and Thompson’s Ghostlight is one of the best depictions of community theater seen onscreen.

Ghostlight is now playing in theaters courtesy of IFC Films. Watch the trailer below.

Note: This review was a part of our coverage for 2024 Sundance Film Festival

Cortland Jacoby
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
review-ghostlightKelly O'Sullivan and Alex Thompson's ode to community theater is expertly acted by a mostly Chicago based cast that will leave you laughing with a tear in your eye.