GHOST: A Buddy Comedy Starring Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg?
I rewatched GHOST recently, a film that somehow balances mournful drama and screwball comedy as a train of character and plot reversals weaves through its taut structure. But as a storyteller, I'm more far interested in the two-hander at this “romance’s” center - which isn't Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.
It's understandable why you might think of and remember GHOST as a romance with Swayze and Moore out front, based on the poster, as well as the film's entire marketing campaign. For example, this 1990 trailer makes Moore the beating heart of the story.
More, humans often remember through an emotional lens. How did it make us feel?! A single image or song can define an entire experience for us - as "Unchained Melody" does in GHOST. The pottery scene is that powerful...et plus romantique en français!
But while GHOST is definitely Romantic with a capital R, the relationship that drives the film's narrative is actually Swayze’s Sam and Whoopi Goldberg’s Oda Mae Brown – a story twist as surprising in hindsight as Sam getting killed at the Act 1 turn.
Following Sam’s murder and the realization that his beloved Molly (Moore) is now in mortal danger, he turns to Oda Mae – a con artist who bilks the bereaved with promises of messages from the dead – for help doing this for real with Molly.
This is GHOST's actual engine.
Think about how you remember GHOST. Is it as an unexpected buddy comedy between a white ghost and a Black con artist trying to solve a murder-mystery? I expect not, but almost every beat from the Act 1 turn on serves this narrative - not the romantic drama of it.
When you reframe GHOST from this POV, you then find yourself looking at a familiar 1980s Hollywood movie structure similar to, say, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Act 1 turn: person on a mission. Top of Act 2: meets their opposite sex lead. Midpoint: shocking twist. And so on...
All the beats and complications in-between and after these films' midpoints play out in manners unique to their stories, but also typical for the period – which I would argue is a high point of this kind of American studio film. The challenge was innovation within convention.
By the time GHOST’s tear-inducing climax arrives, Sam spends little time saying goodbye to his beloved Molly. It's arguably unnecessary that he should – his line that you take all your love with you is that good – but Oda Mae gets her own detailed goodbye to acknowledge the completion of her story arc.
Notably, Molly doesn't have any backstory or any real arc in GHOST other than getting over the murder of her boyfriend and avoiding joining him in the grave. Oda Mae has bucketfuls of both - because she/Goldberg is the film’s co-lead, not Molly/Moore.
To close, it's worth noting the character of Oda Mae Brown is so vital to GHOST's central narrative - the "Sam and Oda Mae solve a murder" two-hander - that Swayze refused to star in the film unless Goldberg played the part opposite him.
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