You might not notice them at first. The tree branch twitching strangely. The trashbin lid that flaps open on its own. But by the time donuts are being chucked across the room and your teen daughter is floating three feet above her bed, it’s hard to ignore the supernatural forces around you. This is the vexation of Extra Ordinary’s heroine, Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins), a medium who’s been ignoring her gift of ghost-gab since an unfortunate incident involving her late father. Fearful of her powers—and getting close to anyone—she’s chosen a career as a driving school instructor, trying to leave the spirits behind her. But all that changes when a charming widower and an eccentric American come into her life.
Directed by Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman, Extra Ordinary follows Rose on a life-changing adventure in a spirit-ridden, rural Irish town. There, she gets nightly calls from neighbors who remember her girlhood as a child prodigy of the paranormal. But once she’s kicked off her sweatpants and settled on a sad dinner of yogurt, Rose is done for the night. That is until she gets a call from the flustered but warm Martin Martin (Barry Ward), who is haunted by the pesky poltergeist of his abusive dead wife. The poor widower has bruises from these ghostly pummelings that can be triggered by choosing a junk food snack or rejecting the shirt she’s laid out for him. Meek and mourning, Martin isn’t in a rush to bid farewell to his menacing missus. But his teen daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) has threatened to move out if her dead mom doesn’t move on. So, Martin turns to Rose, offering a meet-cute that is awkward yet adorable, involving sweetness, subterfuge, and sandwiches.
While lonely Rose is intrigued by this nice man with a shy smile, she’s reluctant to dig back into the occult. That is until Sarah is locked into a trance by a ruthlessly ambitious, Satan-worshipping musician. Will Forte crashes into this quirky Irish comedy as Christian Winter, an American one-hit wonder who is broke and desperate for a second gasp at fame and fortune. So naturally, he makes a deal with the devil, and a virgin is his bargaining chip. In a scramble to save Sarah, Rose and Martin team up on a quest that requires helping ghosts into the light, vomiting ectoplasm, and some serious PDA.
While the plot is a bit meandering, that’s frankly part of the charm of Extra Ordinary. The script by Ahern, Loughman, Higgins, and Demian Fox is peppered with bizarre delights, like the silly shenanigans of Irish ghosts who have nitpicking concerns before moving on. To get them to shove off, Martin must allow them into his body (think Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost). From there, Ward spins from the nebbish love interest into a slew of kooky characters including a dirty old man obsessed on sorting trash and the hard-smoking, hard-headed former Mrs. Martin. These spins are ghoulish, goofy fun, and grounded by Higgins’ enthusiastic engagement with each. In these hijinks, she shapes Rose’s evolution from an insecure loner afraid of the intimacy to a brave leader with a supportive team at her back. Like Ghostbusters! (A movie Rose hasn’t seen or even heard of.)
At its best, Extra Ordinary is a tale of self-discovery alive with cheeky humor and an awkward but winsome romance. Higgins and Ward share a cozy chemistry that sparks as dangers heat things up. Both play mild-mannered folk who tend to fall into the role of doormat to more demanding people, be it a bullying ghost-wife, a brash sibling, or a boastful dad. But together, these wallflowers blossom, discovering their strengths and the power of true partners. Watching this discovery feels like a gift. And Higgins feels like a discovery all on her own, glowing with an enchanting enthusiasm and a tantalizing undercurrent of mischief. It’s a shame the bigger names in the movie can’t match her.
At first, Will Forte seems perfectly cast as a floundering sorcerer. He brandishes a phallic talisman with cartoonish aplomb. He contorts his voice is silly squeals that turn sinister incantations into punchlines. And he brings a megaton of energy to his interactions with Christian’s bullying wife, played by Australian stand-up Claudia O’Doherty. Unfortunately, there’s not much depth to either of these antagonists. As a frustratedly broke trophy wife, O’Doherty does little beyond sulking, snarling, and screeching. Meanwhile, Forte’s weirdo schtick is fun at first, but eventually feels like it’s woefully out of sync with the rest of the movie. While Higgins and the Irish ensemble are offering a brand of comedy that’s quirky and warm with a splash of cheek, Forte is going broad. While this conflict in tone might have been intended to emphasize the contrast between the heroes and villains of this comedy, it mostly feels dissonant, undermining the unique appeal Higgins and company have been brewing.
Tonal wonkiness aside, Extra Ordinary is a demented delight. Playfully weaving together horror movie references (like a shot snatched straight out of The Exorcist), a heartwarming romance, and cheeky laughs, this horror-rom-com is a uniquely enjoyable romp.
Extra Ordinary made its Canadian Premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.
Header Image Source: Fantasia