Darby and the Dead review – a predictable teen comedy with a twist

December 3, 2022 (Last updated: December 4, 2022)
Nicole Ackman 0
Film Reviews, Hulu, Streaming Service

Summary

Darby and the Dead attempts to put an original spin on the high school comedy but feels stale and unpredictable. It’s almost salvaged by two engaging lead performances.

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Summary

Darby and the Dead attempts to put an original spin on the high school comedy but feels stale and unpredictable. It’s almost salvaged by two engaging lead performances.


We review the Hulu film Darby and the Dead, which does not contain spoilers.

Darby Harper is, in many ways, your average high school misfit. She disdains the popular cheerleaders, especially the Queen Bee, who used to be her best friend and scoffs at the lack of sophistication amongst her fellow students. She prides herself on not fitting in, not realizing that she’s just as judgemental as the cliquey girls at her school. However, Darby is special in one major way: she can talk to dead people.

Darby and the Dead is directed by Silas Howard with a script by Wenonah Wilms and Becca Greene. In the film, Darby (Riele Downs) has had her strange power since she was seven years old when she miraculously came back from the dead after almost drowning in the same wave that killed her mother. Since then, she’s shunned the world of the living for that of the dead – helping the “deados” finish their business so they can move on from the living world. Her only real friend, aside from her well-meaning father (Derek Luke), is the school’s former janitor Gary (Tony Danza), who is waiting for his wife to pass on and join him in the afterlife.

Darby would much rather “hang out with the unliving than the unwoke” and often clashes with the popular girls at school. So when head cheerleader Capri (Auli’i Cravalho) dies mid-conversation with her from an accident with a straightener and a puddle of water in the gym locker room, she’s not thrilled to have a new undead companion. Capri is upset to be missing her junior year of high school and insists that Darby convince her old cronies to throw her seventeenth birthday party despite her death so that she can attend in ghost form.

Darby certainly doesn’t want to comply, but Capri is abnormally good at haunting and convinces the other girl that she can coach her into becoming popular for long enough to have the party, after which she promises to move on. But as in any film with a ‘outcast girl becomes popular to fulfill a goal’ plot line, Darby comes to enjoy being Queen Bee a little too much and forgets her real intentions.

The film struggles to balance its many plot lines and can’t escape how predictable it is despite its seemingly original premise. Not only does it bring to mind classics like Mean Girls and Heathers, but it also reminds of a film that did the same thing much more successfully earlier this year: Netflix’s Do Revenge. It feels like a Disney Channel Original Movie, especially in its uneven and often unsuccessful breaking of the fourth wall (a narrative device that we should leave to Fleabag and Enola Holmes).

What saves Darby and the Dead from being an outright disaster? The lead performances by Downs and Cravalho. While Downs is engaging enough to keep the audience invested, it’s Cravalho’s mean girl persona that’s a delight to watch. In the end, both girls must learn to find peace and remember the friendship they once shared. Darby and the Dead, unique premise aside, is rather forgettable but proves that  Cravalho and Downs both deserve to book better projects.

What did you think of the Hulu film Darby and the Dead? Comment below.


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