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‘Ghosted’ and The Disconnect
I hope you like the back of Ana de Armas’s stand-in’s head.
I am not here to explain why I watched Ghosted, a film dropped on Apple TV+ like a turd and treated as such by just about everyone. Was it just rubbernecking the incredible waste of money involved? Maybe. I certainly had zero expectation of a good movie. Do I have a weird habit of deliberately watching terrible things because it makes me feel better about my own fiction? No comment, but, yes, absolutely. Do I always need something to write about here? Yes, dammit.
So, I watched Ghosted, and it was terrible. Absolutely terrible! The many ways this film is terrible could spawn a dozen newsletters, but they would also be terrible, because the terribleness of this film is the infectious sort that gets into everything and is impossible to eradicate.
But this isn’t really a review of the film. It’s an examination of the many, many sequences in the film that utilize an over-the-shoulder reverse shot that is not only the worst way to film two people supposedly getting hot for each other, but also gives ever impression that the actors filmed their scenes separately and were never actually within spitting distance of each other. Which, in case you’re wondering, is kind of a bad move for a romantic comedy.
Body Double? Never in Life
The kind of composition I’m referring to is frequently used when characters are having a conversation. You’ll see a shot of one character talking, with the shoulder or back of the other character towards the camera, then it switches. So you never actually see both faces in the shot. In Ghosted, you can expect to see a lot of shots like this in the early going:
Is that actually Ana de Armas standing there? Who knows! It might be. It might be a rando in a wig. These kinds of reverse shots get used a lot in films and TV shows, of course—but when they’re used a lot, as they are in Ghosted, it creates this weird sense of unreality. Psychologically, you don’t get the sense that these people are in the same space. You don’t get the sense that these people are reacting to each other in any way. They never touch. They’re never fully in the same frame. It creates a sense of distance.
Which is disastrous for a film like Ghosted where the central idea is that there is a strong romantic connection between these characters. The overuse of the reverse shot becomes downright creepy, because the backs we’re staring at might not be the other actor at all, and they just sort of ... stand there. It’s off-putting, and Ghosted does it a lot.
I’m Not Here
The reverse shot exists for a reason, of course. It can be an effective way to film a conversation that allows the actors’ faces to be the audience’s focus on every line—and it’s also useful for pickup shots when you can’t get both actors on set for the scene. So it’s very possible that these uncanny scenes in Ghosted are the awkward result of reshoots or other production problems. If it was difficult to get the actors on set at the same time, these sorts of shots can easily be stitched together to create the illusion that both Evans and Armas were physically present. You may recall a few years ago when Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi were feuding and spent a good portion of a season of The Good Wife never being in the same scenes, and when they were finally in the same scene it was very obviously a composite shot. It’s pretty easy to film actors separately on the same set with some natural-seeming dividing line between them, and then simply combine both shots. With some clever blocking and a few cutaways—plus, yes, some over-the-shoulder reverse shots featuring the back of someone’s head—you can sell it.
In Ghosted, there are some awkward shots edited in showing them actually standing near each other which could either be CGI composites or snippets of original filming that had to be discarded for some reason—they’re noticeable because a) all the reverse shots make any shot with both actors in the frame stand out and b) they’re very short and dropped in with all the editing grace of a drunk gorilla. It’s like they had exactly three seconds of footage where Evans and Armas were standing next to each other and they just parceled it in here to try and convince us that we’re not watching some underpaid extras wearing the stars’ costumes.
The film eventually settles down a bit and actually features Armas and Evans sharing space in a believable way—though some sequences still have that weird we-never-touch air of CGI compositing. And to be fair it never gets quite as bad as the People Like Us debacle where the big climactic kiss between the main characters is clearly digital trickery. But the overuse of reverse shots definitely makes a bad film worse by making its central relationship feel wonky and uncanny from the get-go.
This sort of visual language matters in films. There are many subtle ways that actors can physically share space and interact with other that can convey emotion, attraction, violence—anything, really. But just as CGI sets can make scenes feel airless because actors have nothing to interact with, editing dialog scenes with repetitive reverse shots makes all their reactions feel strangely disconnected. It’s one of those things that you can’t unsee once you notice it.
Whatever you do, don’t rush out to watch Ghosted just to observe these weird phenomenon—you will have regrets. Don’t let the fact that I get obsessed with strange little details like this ruin your life like it has mine. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk to real people for a while to shake this uncanny feeling that we’re all robots living in a simulation.
NEXT WEEK: The one thing the Snyderverse got right.
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The sad irony of commenting on bad pop culture is that you must first experience the bad pop culture, which means I have added to Ghosted’s streaming numbers, increasing the possibility of a Ghosted 2. Please forgive me.
As a true American, I enjoy watching people waste enormous amounts of money that even a tiny percentage of would totally change my life.
I use the word schadenfreude so often The Duchess has introduced a curse jar and a fine system around it.
If I don’t write things, people will stop looking at me, and I’ll cease to exist.
I mean, we live in the Era of The Bachelor Bone Room, for god’s sake. If you want people to buy your romantic coupling, you need to at least, you know, touch each other.
Is there chemistry between Chris Evans and Ana de Armas? There is not, but I also suibscribe to the theory that people this ridiculously attractive may not need to actually have chemistry to just sort of accidentally have sex with each other, so it scans.
Or that it was discovered that Ana de Armas had spinach in her teeth in every shot, and this was cheaper than hiring a CGI firm to Deepfake her mouth.
Possibly three children standing on each other’s shoulders, wearing the aforementioned wig.
As long as watching pint-sized Ana de Armas dispatching dozens of goons with balletic grace counts as believable. She weighs 90 pounds, and most of that weight is the wig!
On the next episode of Jeff Ruins Everything: You’re welcome.