It’s a family affair in Clara’s Ghost, written and directed by — am I reading this right? — “Bridey” Elliott? That seems like a typo. She’s the daughter of Chris Elliott and sister of Abby Elliott. Mom is Paula Niedert Elliott, who was a Late Night with David Letterman staffer when Chris worked there. The whole family plays the Reynolds family, whose circumstances lightly mirror the Elliotts’: Ted Reynolds (Chris) is a once-famous actor whose star has dimmed; daughters Julie (Abby) and Riley (Bridey) co-starred on a sitcom as children and have struggled to find work as young adults; and mom, Clara (Paula), is in the background, the non-famous one, the one who isn’t asked to stand in the pictures when magazines do stories about the “famous family.”
The girls have come home to Connecticut for a couple days for a photo shoot and to celebrate the dog’s birthday (yes, really), but Clara is having trouble keeping a grip on reality. She’s started seeing a ghostly woman in white, perhaps a former occupant of their very old house. She’s also drinking a lot, but that’s normal, and she’s not the only one. Meanwhile, Ted is bitter at being fired from a show that Julie and her producer fiancé are developing, and the girls are hanging out with family friend Joe (Haley Joel Osment), their high school buddy and weed dealer.
The family dynamics are funny and gently odd, and the film has the sort of quirky humor you’d expect from something with Chris Elliott’s DNA in it. I enjoyed hanging out with them, even though the story ultimately fizzles out. Surprisingly, the best performance is by the non-actor, Paula Niedert Elliott, whose worried, addled, tipsy Mom character is never more endearing than when she’s late-night drunk-dialing a winery to pay compliments and ask questions (“If someone could call me back about the fruity undertones, I would appreciate it”). The movie isn’t quite an insightful look at the Forgotten Mom character, but it almost is.