Synopsis: Kay (Sally Field) lost her husband Jolly (James Caan), an attention-loving Broadway producer, in a freak accident three years ago. Since then she hasn’t spent any time in their old home; however, when she begins fixing it up for her upcoming wedding to her new fiance, the devoted but somewhat stodgy archaeologist Rupert (Jeff Bridges), Jolly appears again and old feelings surface. (How American of me to point out what these two men do for a living, right?) The truth is that anyone would appear boring next to Jolly, but he is exhausting even dead. Naturally the ghost complicates things. Will Kay figure out what he wants, what she really wants, and relegate Jolly to her past? Or will the idea of living in a threesome drive Rupert away?
The spirit: James Tapdancing Caan! The spirit appears in the jaunty hat, vest, and other clothes in which he died, but looks quite alive to Kay. Of course, she is the only one who can see or hear him, but he eventually does make Rupert believe in him when he reveals a secret Rupert had never told anyone. Jolly is never scary, but he does make people look insane when they are talking to him. He reappears so that Kay will deal with that part of her life and be able to go on and have a happy marriage to Rupert. Certain unpleasant details about her marriage to Jolly are revealed, making it easier to see him as a real person and not an idealized memory. I think Jolly also helps Kay express to Rupert that her first marriage was important to her and that she loves both men for different reasons, which is healthy. The ghost helps us, the moviegoers, live out a sweet comic fantasy about closure.
My opinion: I loved this movie as a child of about eight. I still love it at age 37, after having not seen it in at least 25 years. It reminds me of spending precious time alone with my mother, as we used to watch it together when it was in rotation on pay TV. One line of dialogue in particular I had been trying to place for years and finally found it in this movie when I re-watched it tonight. I also remembered Sally Field’s ridiculous rationalizations to other characters every time she is taught talking to Jolly. She does some tapdancing of her own in those moments. For some reason I remembered Jolly’s clothing very well, and when I think of James Caan I think of the hat and vest. I don’t think I understood all the great dialogue as a kid, but the comedic misunderstandings stayed with me and are just as much fun now.
However, it is obvious to me that an adult romantic comedy so accessible to an eight year old may not be the choice of adults today, especially those who don’t remember the eighties. For me, it takes me back to when people wore baggy sweaters over oxford shirts, when archaeologists were somewhat glamorized and appeared as film characters often (thanks Indy!), when people still talked to strangers, when they called therapy “analysis,” and when I thought I was going to grow up to be vivacious and elegant like Sally Field; instead I’m laid back and edgy, but that’s fine. Heck, it’s fun to remember a time when Sally Field ruled the world!
One thing I completely did not remember is Jeff Bridges in this movie. It reminds me that Beau Bridges was more prevalent at the time, at least in the films I watched, and now it seems strange to see Jeff in this type of light comedy. He does funny well here, but comes off a little manic and menacing. I could see Beau in the role more easily, but I can’t recast a film from 1982.
If I could go back to 1982, I’m sure I would have better things to do, like buy real estate with 2012 dollars at 1982 prices. That brings me to the house Jolly haunts. I can’t describe to you how fabulous it is. It is a character in the film just like the people who inhabit it. Wood, molding, large windows, fabulous staircase, a dance rehearsal floor (not a room, but a whole floor), pocket doors, chandelier…as Rupert says when he first sees it, you couldn’t afford to build this house now. Not the “now” of 1982, and certainly not the now of 2012! The house does not look as dated as the hair and clothes in the film, and its timeless beauty represents Kay’s old love and her new life. That is to say, just because someone else once lived in your home doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it, right? It follows that just because you loved before doesn’t mean you can’t love again, although differently. The new love can be just as strong.
See also: Just Like Heaven, Beetlejuice, Topper, Blithe Spirit, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands.