Shining Vale, review: Courteney Cox stars in Sharon Horgan's latest black comedy

Courteney Cox as Pat Phelps in Shining Vale - Starzplay
Courteney Cox as Pat Phelps in Shining Vale - Starzplay

Sharon Horgan specialises in creating women who could do with a lie-down in a darkened room. Anna Maxwell Martin in Motherland, Sarah Jessica Parker in Divorce, and now Courteney Cox in Shining Vale (StarzPlay) – they’re all frazzled in a way that other women can recognise. “I’m your mother and I’m doing the best I can!” Cox’s Pat Phelps yells in despair at her teenage children.

The Phelps family have moved from their Brooklyn apartment to a big old house in Connecticut. It’s supposed to be a fresh start after Pat had a fling with the handyman who came to fix the sink, which fits quite well with her job as a writer of erotic novels.

Straight away, Pat starts seeing ghosts. At least, she thinks she does. As a note on screen informs us: women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, and twice as likely to be possessed by a demon. “The symptoms are the same.” Pat is on antidepressants.

Shining Vale – which Horgan has co-written with Jeff Astrof – is billed as a comedy-horror but it hovers around in the space between the two because it’s neither screamingly funny nor remotely frightening. As Pat’s husband Terry, Greg Kinnear is the amusing one – this is partly down to him getting the best lines, but also because Kinnear is a more accomplished comic performer than Cox, who is too schooled in the filmed-before-a-studio-audience style of Friends to find the nuance.

Terry is determined to put a cheerful face on things despite having a truculent teenage daughter, a screen-addicted son (“Outside?!” the boy gulps, when his father suggests they go for a walk) and a wife who slept with the plumber. He tells the marriage guidance counsellor that he manages his anger by chopping wood. Pat goes outside and finds a log pile the size of
a small house.

So it’s a supposedly spooky story, with bumps in the night and a ghostly Mira Sorvino, but really it’s about a couple navigating mid-life, marriage problems and raising terrible teens. At least Shining Vale is attempting to tackle it in a light-hearted style, rather than bleak drama.