Ireland’s good-natured paranormal rom-com is uneven in spots but makes up for it with charm & wit.
Romantic comedies are a nice escape from the real world, mostly because they in no way reflect what the real world actually looks like. Everyone’s thin and gorgeous (even though the audience is supposed to buy them as plain and dowdy), with exciting careers that allow them to afford loft apartments in Manhattan. Most love stories with “regular” looking characters in non-glamorous jobs have touches of pathos to them, like John Hughes’ Only the Lonely or Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty. Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman’s Extra Ordinary is the rare lighthearted rom-com featuring normal, relatable characters who fall in love not because a cruel world pushed them together, but because they just happened to be the right person for each other. That it also involves ghost hunting and virgin sacrifice is merely a bonus.
Rose (Irish comedian Maeve Higgins) is a lonely driving instructor, and the daughter of paranormal investigator Vincent Dooley (Risteard Cooper), whose videos on the science and lore of the supernatural are featured throughout the film. Rose inherited Vincent’s ability to communicate with the dead, but gave up the family business after Vincent was killed in an accident involving a bus and a haunted pothole. Hapless widower Martin Martin (Barry Ward) hires Rose for driving lessons under false pretenses — he really needs help with the ghost of his late wife, Bonnie, who mostly bullies him from beyond the grave about what shirts to wear, and when to pay taxes.
Though their attraction to each other is immediate (Martin is thoughtful enough to show up for his driving lesson with a sandwich, juice box, and single breath mint for Rose), Rose wants nothing to do with his spooky situation. She gives in only when Martin’s teenage daughter, Sarah (Emma Coleman) appears to become possessed. It’s not Bonnie who’s possessing Sarah, however – she’s under a spell cast by has-been rock star Christian Winter (Will Forte). Christian has made a pact with the Devil, agreeing to sacrifice a virgin in exchange for his next album becoming a hit. Falling in love along the way, Rose and Martin, who turns out to be an excellent conduit for exorcising ghosts, team up to rescue Sarah before Christian can complete his end of the deal.
Extra Ordinary is the rare lighthearted rom-com featuring normal, relatable characters who fall in love not because a cruel world pushed them together, but because they just happened to be the right person for each other.
Extra Ordinary is clearly aiming for the Shaun of the Dead/What We Do in the Shadows kind of quirky parody, and it just about makes it, though it would have been even more enjoyable if we had gotten to see more of Vincent’s instructional videos. Though there’s a clever running joke about how Rose is unfamiliar with The Exorcist (“I don’t know him”) and Ghostbusters (“Oh, I haven’t read that”), the paranormal stuff is actually the weaker part of the movie, ending with a dusty clunker of a virginity gag. Much of it still works, though, and that’s thanks mostly to Forte, who plays a comically implausible villain. The smaller, weirder moments, like Forte slowly and painstakingly removing a pair of gloves, only to replace them with a different pair of gloves, work better than characters repeatedly vomiting ectoplasm into jelly jars. When Extra Ordinary settles on what kind of movie it’s trying to be, it’s a real charmer, with a game cast and likable characters.
However, it works best as a sweet romance between two individuals who act and look like people you’d sit next to watching this very movie in a theater. It’s a bit shameful that in 2020 we’re still shocked to see ordinary, fine but not movie star handsome or beautiful actors get to play characters with romantic and sexual needs (let alone not have those needs be portrayed as funny or a little gross). Under the mistaken impression that audiences don’t want to see movie characters that look like them, if Extra Ordinary had been an American studio release Rose and Martin would have undoubtedly been played by Allison Brie and Chris Evans, or someone similar.
Higgins and Ward have such a genuine chemistry with each other that the plot doesn’t even have to create contrived “meet cute” situations to push them together. Nor, refreshingly, is there a makeover scene, a drawn out “will they/won’t they” trope, a “darkest hour before the dawn” moment, or a wise-beyond-their-years child convincing them that they belong together. They meet, they’re attracted to each other, they learn to like each other even more after spending time together, like how actual, real-life relationships work. While the paranormal stuff in Extra Ordinary is fun (and, again, Forte sells the hell out of it, no pun intended), I would have happily watched an entire movie just about Rose and Martin’s budding romance. It’s a rare and very enjoyable treat.
Extra Ordinary is now playing in theaters.