For fans of shows like Julie and the Phantoms, Disney/Hulu’s ghostly gem, Darby and the Dead, comes for the jugular! It seems very on-trend right now to emulate the excellent dark comedies of the late 90s and early 2000s like Jawbreaker, Mean Girls, and The Craft, and screenwriters Becca Greene and Wenonah Wilms channel identical energy with ease. More surprising than the successful spooky elements are the heavy recurring themes on friendship, life, death, and legacy—all much more in-depth than I had anticipated from a late-in-the-year Hulu entry.
Ever since the day she and her mom “died,” Darby Harper (Riele Downs) has quite literally been seeing dead people. While her mother did not return to her body, Darby was resuscitated after the tragic accident. As she grows older, former cheerleader Darby becomes more in tune with the dead. She decides to start a side gig every Friday night in which she counsels spirits, providing a signature service that can eventually help them to “cross over.” As Darby narrates to the audience, she is a “spiritual messenger.” In high school, Darby does everything she can to stay invisible to others. Her once-best-friend, the Uber-popular Capri (Auli’i Cravalho, Rise. Moana), does everything in her power to publicly humiliate Darby, but the bullying is cut short after an accidental electrocution-by-hair-straightener.
The ghost of Capri immediately comes for Darby—loud, angry, and pining for everything she has lost. Leaving behind an adorable musically-inclined boyfriend, James (Asher Angel, Shazam), who never made it past the Blind Auditions on The Voice, a queen-bee crew of cronies, and an unrealized cheerleading career, Capri is bothered most by the fact that she will never be able to have her big sweet seventeen party. As Darby is tasked with being study buddy for charming transfer student Alex (Chosen Jacobs, Stephen King’s It, Castle Rock), Capri concocts a plan for her big party to still go off without a hitch. Begrudgingly using Darby to help her out, Capri will only move on after this one final hurrah.
Infiltrating the popular crew will not be as easy as it seems—outsider Darby will need to embrace her inner Instagram starlet and boost her follower count to win over the cheer team, not to mention completely making herself over, including a major attitude adjustment. Darby and Ghost-Capri have an easy chemistry together; they share a believable past history as friends that soured to one another, but the spark always remains present. Darby’s easy relationship with Alex is a romantic highlight for me, even as the movie moves toward a more traditional love triangle. While many of the plot threads can be followed from a mile away, there are a few surprises in Darby and the Dead.
Coming of age comedies like this one often contain another key element, which involves the central figures changing one another in even ways not immediately evident. Darby comes out of her shell, while Capri isn’t anywhere near as vapid and vain as she initially appears. The resolution puts maybe a bit too much of a bow on the whole affair, but I found Darby and the Dead to be a vibrant bit of escapism overall. It left me craving more from this world, which is always at least a good sign of great world-building prowess.
Darby and the Dead helps the spirits cross over when it lumbers to Hulu on Friday, December 2nd.