Lady of the Manor is the slight but funny feature directorial debut of actor Justin Long (New Girl, Live Free or Die Hard) and his brother Christian Long, who also wrote the script together. A Savannah-set comedy in which willful slacker Hannah (Melanie Lynskey) is forced to change her ways by the ghost of Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer), a woman who lived during the Civil War, the movie is pleasantly diverting due to a humorous set-up and a game cast of talented actors, even though the story as a whole feels half-baked.
The movie introduces Hannah as a drinking, drugging true-crime enthusiast who makes money delivering illegal pot products throughout the city. After she manages to get arrested during one of her deliveries, her boyfriend breaks up with her and kicks her out of their house. So when spoiled heir Tanner Wadsworth (Ryan Phillippe) notices her at a local bar and offers her a job giving tours of his family’s historically significant manor in the guise of its former resident Lady Wadsworth, she jumps at the chance because it enables her to live at the house.
At first, Hannah doesn’t take her new position seriously, failing to learn even the most minor facts about the woman she’s pretending to be. But then, the disapproving ghost of the long deceased Southern belle appears to her, leading the pair to strike a deal: If Lady Wadsworth doesn’t prevent her from indulging in the occasional chemically induced high or sexual exploit, Hannah agrees to let Lady Wadsworth teach her how to be a lady. As the pair spend time together, they slowly come to enjoy each other’s company, and each one grows from the experience, especially Hannah. And eventually, Hannah becomes invested enough in Lady Wadsworth and her manor that the pair team up to solve a long-buried mystery with the aid of history professor Max Plumm (Justin Long), who Hannah meets while giving her first (impressively awful) tour.
Lady of the Manor‘s ghost-buddy conceit is a clever enough idea to hang a movie on; however, the film prizes laughs over well-constructed plot or character development. Conflicts are quickly smoothed over and the characters of Hannah and Max are inconsistent from one scene to another. Hannah, in particular, is a selfish idiot until she’s not, but her transition isn’t so much a gradual development as a leap. Meanwhile, it’s hard to understand what Max sees in hot mess Hannah, especially when she’s blithely butchering history or voicing her inappropriate assumptions about his interactions with his students.
Nonetheless, Lynskey, Long, and especially Greer are entertaining to watch, and even if every joke doesn’t land, the ensemble seems like it’s having so much fun riffing on the plot’s silly scenarios that the movie rolls along amiably despite the script’s flaws. Resolution may come far too easily and the characterizations may be uneven, but Lady of the Manor features such a likable group of comic actors that it’s still an enjoyably amusing, if not especially memorable, trifle.