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With: Melanie Lynskey, Judy Greer, Justin Long, Ryan Phillippe, Tamara Austin, Wallace Jean, Luis Guzmán, Patrick Duffy
Written by: Christian Long, Justin Long
Directed by: Christian Long, Justin Long
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual material and drug use
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/17/2021

Lady of the Manor (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Ghost Clowns

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Justin Long (a regular in Kevin Smith's movies) and his brother Christian Long make their feature writing and directing debut with this strange comedy; it always seems to be a half-a-beat off its pace, as if it were leaving room for the actors to make stuff up. Certainly there's not much actual writing going on, in terms of the snoozily familiar plot. But it's still often hilarious in its off-kilter way. The Longs get things off to a great start with their casting of international treasure Melanie Lynskey as Hannah, who is not a drug dealer, but rather a "drug deliverer."

As it starts, she's eating peanut butter toast and smoking pot while watching a murder reality TV marathon. Her irritated boyfriend snaps at her, and then she gets a call for a delivery. Unfortunately she gets Jackson Street mixed up with Jackson Avenue and winds up arrested for soliciting a minor; an act of entrapment, since the minor is revealed to be a 19 year-old actor (creepily licking at a giant swirly lollipop). Her boyfriend bails her out of jail, breaks up with her, and informs her that she must register as a sexual predator.

At a bar, drinking away her miseries (jabbering to stoic bartender Luis Guzmán), the aptly-named rich scumbag Tanner Wadsworth (Ryan Phillippe) finds her and offers her a job. She can live at the expansive, antique Wadsworth manor, if she'll agree to take on the job of playing Lady Wadsworth and leading daily tours. (Of course, he really only wants to sleep with her.) Hungover and having failed to study the materials, Hannah begins making stuff up on the tour, and the enraged ghost of the real Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer) appears.

From there, it's all pretty routine. Hannah and Lady Wadsworth go through a "makeover," and then must solve the problem of the fake will that the Wadsworth family has used to keep the manor in their name, rather than going to the family of Black servants that takes care of them, as Lady Wadsworth intended. Justin Long appears as nerdy schoolteacher Max, who provides helpful information to the clueless Hannah, and becomes her real love interest.

The quartet of Lynsky, Greer, Phillippe, and Long play together as if they had forever been performing improv, and had long ago found each other's grooves, matching up strengths and weaknesses. Even stupid things, like Hannah challenging Lady Wadsworth to make a funny face — when they should be trying to escape with the real will — shouldn't work at all, but somehow does; the women find the exact right timing for the silly joke. Hannah learning to dab the corners of her mouth with a napkin is also funny, and yes, even a fart joke works.

Lynsky gets most of the laughs, of course. She plays her lazy, vulgar, hard-drinking, sex-obsessed butter tart without any manic cries for attention. She gives the performance a slowness that implies confidence. She's good with who she is, thanks, and so when she messes something up this confidence usually sparks a joke.

Aside from their timing and laughs, the Long brothers don't seem to put much effort into the rest of their movie, making it visually sing. There are flashbacks to Lady Wadsworth's days that, in terms of lighting and tone, look just like the rest of the movie, which is to say, rather flat and bland. The scenes inside the manor could have been more elegant, and might have further created comic conflict with Hannah's vulgarity. That aside, Lady of the Manor still provided a satisfying evening's giggles.

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