Photo: ‘Darby and the Dead’
‘Darby and the Dead’ breaks many Disney stars out of their clean family-friendly records into this edgy PG-13 film. Auli’i Cravalho, voice of the Polynesian Disney princess Moana, stars as the popular mean girl, Capri who suffered an untimely death just before she gets to experience her extravagant seventeenth birthday party. Meanwhile, her ex-bestfriend and social outcast, Darby Harper, played by Riele Downs, was gifted with the secret ability to see and speak to spirits that have yet to cross over from a lack of closure in the mortal world. Having started her own spirit counseling service , Darby Harper is tasked with her most difficult task and client of her life, becoming a popular cheerleader and throwing the school’s grandest birthday memorial party for the late and superficial head cheerleader Capri.
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‘Darby and the Dead’
This modern-day ‘Ghost Whisperer’ blends the stereotype of superficial gen-z teens with the ‘Mean Girls’ character arcs. With only remaining on Earth due to her never getting the party she needed, Capri vows to haunt Darby for the rest of her life unless she agrees to live the life Capri had so she can live vicariously through her. In the month-long journey of going geek to chic, Darby suffers the indulgence of popularity impacting her own social life and supernatural duties. With the evolution of Darby, Capri discovers she may have not wished she created the monster that she did. This film is heartwarming, has some funny beats, and is a great casual watch for anyone just wanting something to hang with good energy and happy tones.
Former Teen Stars Auli’i Cravalho and Riele Downs Explore More “Mature” Roles
Aside from the topics of death and hints of sex, the movie is pretty family-friendly despite a PG-13 rating. However, the characters do explore more mature lifestyles than seen in their previous works. The film doesn’t quite push the boundaries of PG-13 like other teen movies have like ‘Mean Girls’. The premise itself is more mature than traditional Disney films, as Darby’s powers come from being resurrected from drowning in the ocean.
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Auli’i Cravalho fits her role well and plays the hot and spoiled cheerleader well. Believably, she plays the superficial and chronically unsatisfied rich girl that needs to get what she wants and definitely steals the show. On the side, Cravalho is paired with Asher Angel, who is also a Disney alumnus with his work on ‘Andi Mack’, as her boyfriend. Cravalho’s character drives the show, pushing Riele Downs’s character into furthering the plot instead of continuing her reclusive lifestyle. Riele Downs, known for her role as Charlotte Page in the Nickelodeon show ‘Henry Danger’. Riele Downs’s portrayal of Darby seems to represent the style and tone that the film is trying to capture. Although the nonchalant and distant protagonist seems to be the direction that the director was going for, sometimes it leaves the film feeling a bit like walking a grumpy toddler through the mall. Cravalho seems to lead the screen as she is the more ecstatic and proactive character. However, both of the characters do not have much likeability to them to begin with, for different reasons. Gladly, the characters’ developments lead to something good.
Despite the Cliches, The Film Presents Good Lessons to Young People
Like most streaming service original teen-comedies, the film falls victim to presenting the many tropes and jokes seen in any film set with a social media-heavy student body. It does mention “followers” and “engagements” too many times for a film that explained “humblebragging” was one of the keys to popularity, and it pushes the edges of relatability to be a film obviously written to try to be relatable; AKA, the film was written by someone that thinks they know how high schoolers today act based off other works by other writers that think they know how high schoolers act.
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Nonetheless, the film tells some good lessons that some people could learn if they were looking for a lesson instead of just something chill to watch. On one side, young viewers will learn that some of what they believe are major milestones in their young life are not really anything necessary to throw fits about. Through Capri, young viewers could learn what she learns, which is that popularity is not everything nor is popularity the key to being happy with your adolescent life. With her mission to transform Darby, she realizes that, while she has helped Darby overcome some of her flaws, it has also impeded her morality and sense of priority. On the other hand, viewers can learn to not lose themselves when indulging in attention. Additionally, they can learn how great it can be to realize that life is short and to explore and try new things and maximize their experience of life. This film can teach young viewers how to find a good balance in selfishness and selflessness.
Silas Howard, the director of the film, and Becca Greene, the screenwriter, did a great job creating a film that is able to have touching moments in an outworldly story. With the many mentions of death with the ghost characters, the film does not fall into the hole of wallowing in that sorrow and brings a lot of humor around the subject while providing appropriate times to bring in the sad bits of death, the afterlife, and all the regrets and wishes that coincide with it.
‘Darby and the Dead’ is now available to stream on Hulu.
Actors: Riele Downs, Nicole Maines, Asher Angel, Chosen Jacobs, Auli’i Cravalho, Tony Danza, Kylie Liya Page, Genneya Walto
Director: Silas Howard
Writers: Becca Greene (Screenplay by), Wenonah Wilms (based on a story by)
By Nino Vongphachanh
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