Lady of the Manor marks Justin Long’s directorial debut after an illustrious career in many high-profile mid to late-2000s comedies. He co-directs the film with his brother Christian, who also makes his directorial debut. Together, they craft a rather middling and recycled comedy with . . . well . . . middling and recycled results. Melanie Lynskey (“The Intervention”) stars as Hannah Kolinsky, a drug deliverer who recently got arrested for accidentally soliciting a minor and, as a result, causes her relationship with her boyfriend to end. Unfortunately, Hannah does not have a real job and prefers to stay high all day off weed. However, after a recent encounter with Tanner Wadsworth (Ryan Phillippe, “Wish Upon”), who offers Hannah a job as a tour guide at Wadsworth manor, she can finally start to set her life straight . . . that is until the ghost of Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer, “Halloween”) starts haunting Hannah, as Hannah’s tours contain minimal facts on Lady Wadsworth’s life. She will now learn the manners of a lady through Wadsworth’s tutelage and uncover the truth on who the Wadsworth manor really belongs to.
Through every turn, Lady of the Manor uses nothing but clichés. Once you’re past the initial situation of Hannah getting arrested and meeting Tanner, the entire movie is a simple redemption story we’ve all seen before. Hannah doesn’t want to study on Lady Wadsworth and prefers getting high and drunk all the time, which will cause great uproar for Lady Wadsworth, who makes sure everyone who dares portray her on tour is respectable enough. Thus, Hannah transitions into an 18th-century “lady,” and that’s when she’ll learn the truth about Wadsworth manor and why Tanner hired her in the first place.
As a total douche, Ryan Phillippe completely relishes playing an amazingly unlikable sex-crazed nepotism baby. It’s a little weird to say this at once, but man, is he the best part of this entire movie. I wanted more of him and less Melanie Lynskey, which is kind of sad because she’s usually a great comedic actress. If you’ve seen “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” you know that she has the comedic chops to lead a movie. But the material she’s given here is amazingly haphazard and quite uninspired. She’s an alcohol and weed-loving deliverer who loves being lazy and nothing else. She shares very little chemistry with any of the characters, whether Tanner, Lady Wadsworth, or historian Max (played by none other than Justin Long (“Literally, Right Before Aaron”). Long and Phillippe are the only performers in this movie who truly give a damn about the material given (in Long’s case, probably because he is also the filmmaker and writer). Everyone else seems to pitifully phone in their performances.
Even Judy Greer, who usually has an entertaining presence, is forced to make weird grimaces and speak in the most unconvincing southern accent I’ve heard since Nicolas Cage in “Con Air,” feels completely wasted here. What’s even worse is that the movie itself feels phoned in. There are so many rookie mistakes in continuity through its editing and costume positions from scene to scene that it pretty much feels like a student film instead of legitimate Hollywood production. For example, one shot sees Lynskey holding a hat, while the next one has the hat inside a glass box as if nothing was properly stitched together and the job was rushed. Well, it’s not that big of a problem when everything about the film feels rushed, including character development which is riddled inside stereotypes and clichés instead of evolved naturally through a legitimately compelling progression. As a result, the story is amazingly uninspired and tepid and has already been done in other “spiritual comedies” to better effect.
I admit that I found some of the running gags particularly funny and that Long is on to something when it comes to comedic timing. Jokes that I usually don’t laugh at — which come at the expense of bodily functions — had me literally dying out of my seat. Maybe if the film focused on the absurdity of the humor instead of needlessly staying on its story and under-cooked characters, it might have worked as a fun novelty comedy, but alas Lady of the Manor focuses too much on the elements that don’t work instead of those that do. Still, I’d like to see Justin Long direct another film again, as his next one could be perfect if he focuses on comedy. He may be a filmmaker to watch shortly.