I never thought one of the most charming rom-coms I would see all year would also orchestrate the single best fart joke in ages, as well as include Judy Greer making hilarious faces to herself in a mirror. Lady of the Manor, written and directed by brotherly duo Christian Long and Justin Long (who also stars), feels like a studio comedy that would have released back in the 90s. Though it does feature the trope of a love triangle, the Long brothers never take this angle of the story seriously in any way. Instead, they hone in on the hilarious friendship formed between self-proclaimed “drug deliverer” Hannah (Melanie Lynskey) and the sassy ghost of the manor, Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer). For fans of either actress, Lady of the Manor acts as a buffet of laugh-out-loud moments, girl power, justice, and self-discovery that any well-mannered individual will find absolutely divine.
Hannah is down on her luck, to say the least. Freshly dumped, homeless, and briefly imprisoned, she heads to a local bar where she opines that she must now register as a sex offender due to a drug delivery to the wrong address. By chance, ultra-douche Tanner (Ryan Phillippe) drunkenly offers her a job! He has become the newfound owner of the legendary family homestead, Wadsworth Manor, and fired the tour guide unceremoniously after she turned him down for a sleazy date. Tanner’s father, who is running for mayor of Savannah and needs to keep his image squeaky-clean, gives Tanner an ultimatum: find a new tour guide, or risk losing his inheritance.
It’s clear from early on that Tanner is a rich cheating snob, from when he orders the maid to fetch him an “iced pumpkin latte,” and his intentions with Hannah are transparently sexual in nature. Nevertheless, Hannah is happy to have a new job and living space, even though she is forced to wake up at 9:30am every morning to start the tours. Max (Justin Long), a charming professor, is quick to call Hannah on her bullshit in the midst of a tour she flubs her way through. Eventually, he gives her his card “if she wants actual facts.” It turns out though, that her harshest critic may be of a ghostly nature. She tries to light a bowl filled with weed, and her lighter keeps getting blown out. When Lady Wadsworth, who died there in 1875 Savannah, makes her first appearance, Lady of the Manor kicks into high gear. The script from the Long brothers chooses an absolutely hysterical moment for her grand entrance, and it changes the course of the film entirely.
The lifeblood of Lady of the Manor is in the relationship that forms between Hannah and Lady Wadsworth. Upon their first encounter, Wadsworth is convinced that she is a maniac teeming with syphilis, and Hannah calls the woman a “stuffy old-fashioned bitch ghost.” However, the two have more in common than it first appears. Wadsworth gives Hannah diction lessons and helps her toy with making the tour a better experience (including tips!), and Hannah tries to break down Wadsworth’s walls with her vulgar upfront attitude and love for “pleasuring oneself.” Ultimately, the two women rub off on each other—Hannah helps Wadsworth loosen up more, while Wadsworth shows Hannah the strengths of having structure, manners, and purpose. Hannah may even be the only way of unearthing an injustice involving the Lady’s last will! It is a heartwarming story of R-rated humor and hijinks… and excusing oneself to fart.
I found it interesting that while the core cast is comprised of horror alums from Halloween, Jeepers Creepers, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Rose Red, this crew has some serious comedy chops that the Longs’ script allows them to embrace. Try to witness Phillippe spouting “Knock knock I’ve got your cock cock,” Lynskey talking about queefs, or Greer making age-old judgements about Hannah’s lifestyle without cracking a smile. Justin Long plays more of the straight-laced professor, but he vibes well from Lynskey’s energy. It may be an ensemble piece, but the relationship between Wadsworth and Hannah is the most vital.
“I myself have been known to make a silly face from time to time,” Judy Greer’s Lady Wadsworth says with a giggle. This leads into one of the best gags of the movie that recurs through the rest of the runtime, and cements a magical friendship for the ages. Lady of the Manor may not be an Oscar-winning stuffy drama, but it doesn’t need to be—the Long brothers know exactly what kind of comedy bullseye to hit. They throw in the exact right ingredients of charm and splendor to keep the audience in on their jokes. A lovely final act and a blooper reel during the credits serve as the perfect send-off for this ghostly treasure trove of fun.
Lady of the Manor busts the doors to Wadsworth Manor wide open when it debuts on streaming and in limited release theaters on Friday, September 17th.