A film review by Craig J. Koban


2009, PG-13, 100 mins.


Connor: Matthew McConaughey / Jenny: Jennifer Garner / Uncle Wayne: Michael Douglas / Paul: Breckin Meyer / Sandra: Lacey Chabert / Sgt. Volkom: Robert Forster / Vondra: Anne Archer

Directed by Mark Waters / Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

At what point did Matthew McConaughey become every late night talk show host’s punch line? 

I certainly don’t know, but if the once promising actor makes another banal, soulless, unfunny, and decidedly second rate sex farce like GHOST OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST, then it is safe to assume that he has gone well beyond committing career suicide. 

What happened to the breezy and infectious charm that he exuded in early comedic roles like his drugged out slacker in DAZED AND CONFUSED or with his stern and invigorating dramatic portrayals in films like AMISTAD, FRAILTY, and – most recently – WE ARE MARSHALL?  What we have in McConaughey is an actor chiefly selling out his once decent image as a capable talent with lame and lamentable excursions into the underbelly of the rom-com genre in the form of witless and idiotic chick flicks like THE WEDDING PLANNER, HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN TEN DAYS, and FAILURE TO LAUNCH.  From time to time he has flirted with playing adventure heroes with mixed success (see SAHARA) and then, to even more teeth grating levels of condescension, tried to morph the action flick with the rom-com in a highly disagreeable hybrid film like last year’s odiously wrongheaded FOOL’S GOLD

Now listen…this dude’s got talent…but it’s been all but vacant lately.  His highly phoned-in schtick is getting woefully tiresome: the goofy and offbeat charmer with the Adonis six-pack, pecs of steel, a surfer-esque manner of affable boneheadedness, and a frequent droll, everyman wit.  Yes, McConaughey is an appealing and likeable screen presence, but has gone out of his way to showcase this side of his thespian repertoire in one dreary and insipid paycheck film to the next.  Matt: we get it…you can play up to your chiseled and frequently shirtless façade and your easygoing and spirited Southwestern swagger with the best of them, but it’s time to put this side of your performance resume to sleep…permanently…for fear of it utterly imploding your career once and for all. 

Sigh.  This leads me to GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIEND’S PAST, which is another in a painfully long recent list of standard order, run-of-the-mill rom-coms that chugs along from one inordinately predictable plot beat to the next.  Of course, the genre has always been one of the most easily digestible and I have always maintained that they have to establish themselves on a few basic, key levels to be successful.  In simple terms, give us two romantic leads that we like and yearn on to see their inevitable, pre-end credits courtship.  This ain’t rocket science.  The problem with this film is that (a) only one of the main romantic leads is truly likeable and worthy of our rooting interest and (b) the story is a lazy and uninspired appropriation of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROLE, but his time instead of a Scrooge growing to learn and appreciate the real meaning of the holiday season we have a Scrooge that grows to learn that there is more to life than a daily hedonistic diet of promiscuous intercourse with as many brain-dead floozies as possible.  

And the problem with that is....?

Okay, kidding aside, the “Scrooge” here takes the form of Connor Mead (McConaughey) who is the ultimate “get ‘em into bed, have your way with ‘em, and abandon ASAP” ladies man.  His is an affluent and popular magazine photographer by day and by night he is screwing anything that is female and has a pulse.  Part of his grand strategy is to get women into the sack and to get out, without hesitation and remorse, and to proceed to the next unassuming victim (at one point, he manages to dump three women at the same time while having a chat session with all of them online…that’s a first).  Cuddling or “spooning” with them is a definite no-no for Connor, but “forking”, as he humorously states at one point, is an absolute must.  If his overall attitude to women in general is not sleazy enough, then his prerogative regarding marriage is even more loathsome: he has an almost fanatical opposition to the institution, which makes it difficult for him to be the best man at his brother’s (Breckin Meyer) upcoming nuptials to the love of his life (Lacey Chabert). 

However detestable his disdain for marriage is, Connor does profess to be a family man and begrudgingly agrees to show up and assist his little brother on his way down the altar.  However, problems ensue when a member of the bride’s party makes an appearance that is actually a woman from Connor’s disreputable past.  She is Jenny (Jennifer Garner), who is Connor’s feminist, empowered, and strong willed kryptonite.  You see, Connor had a big thing for Jenny when they were in middle school together, but he was a shy lad that could not profess his real feelings to her then and has repressed it ever since.  He once had a one-night sexual fling with her that ended with him abandoning her in the morning, which greatly hurt her.  When the two reconnect at the wedding it becomes a real battle of sexual wills.   

Connor, for one reason or another, still loves this woman, even though love is a foreign language to him.  Fortunately, he gets his relationship education in Dickensian fashion when the ghost of his long deceased Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas) shows up to reveal to him that he will be visited by – yup – three ghosts that will show him aspects of his past, present, and future.  Predictably, Connor decides to mend his blatantly promiscuous ways through his ordeal with the ghosts and tries to proudly be by his brother’s side at his wedding while finally convincing Jenny that he will be the type of “spooning” man she has desired him to be for decades. 

The script for GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIEND’S PAST was written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who previously helmed last year’s sporadically funny holiday comedy, FOUR CHRISTMASES.  Their results here are much the same, but this time the pair never gets any successful comedic mileage out of their amalgam of chick flick meets Dickens morality play.  There are some undeniably smart and acerbic dialogue exchanges in the film (many coming from the razor sharp witted and assured Jennifer Garner) and some of the slapstick and innuendo is giggle inducing (a bit with Connor trying to save a capsizing wedding cake inspires modest grins), but the film slumbers around at the expense of its tired, formulaic, and pedestrian storyline.  Nothing in GHOST OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST goes against the grain or attempts to even modestly reinvent to rom-com playbook.  Instead, the film regrettably goes out of its way to be as pitilessly routine, bland, and clunky as it can. 

There’s one mitigating factor here that makes the potential romance between Connor and Jenny fail to simmer in any meaningful way – Connor (largely thanks to another McConaughey performance in pure, paycheck grabbin' sleep walk mode) is such an insufferable, egotistical, unscrupulous, arrogant, and sex-obsessed misogynist that you never once – not for a second – wholeheartedly believe his stunning transformation from skirt-chasm himbo to well-meaning Boy Scout with the heart of gold at the film’s preordained conclusion.  Connor is such a grand-A and unforgivably callous SOB – and lecherous detester of a woman’s feelings – that there is rarely a point in the film where you want him to get the beautiful, self-assured, and independent soul that is Jenny.  He is such a septic tank of repulsion that it’s a miracle that Jenny would find even one iota of sympathy for this guy later on.  The character also underlines the film’s offensively sexist and cavalier attitude towards women in general.  It’s funny, but for a rom-com that is certainly targeted at female viewers, GHOST OF GIRLFRIEND’S PAST likes to spit in their faces.  It paints most woman that are in Connor’s crosshairs as simpleminded and salivating stooges that will do anything to get him in the sack, despite their own  acknowledgement of his reckless treatment of their gender on the whole.  I hate it when films like this treat people – men or woman, for that matter – as unintelligent buffoons. 

Alas, there are some bright spots to this very dim and bleak comedy.  Whereas some of the individual performances are DOA (like Lacey Chabert’s tragically unfunny turn as the perfectionist, wedding possessed bride to be, as well as Robert Forrester’s somewhat embarrassing turn as her militaristic father), Michael Douglas’ appearance as the ghost uncle cheerfully radiates a cheerful self-absorption and swinging, woman hungry hipster’s bravado (I believe that his appearance – which physically hints at the famous film producer, Robert Evans – is scores a lot of points).  Breckin Meyer is kind of surprisingly decent portraying his character's sensitivity and sincerity.  And then there is the effervescent and cute as a proverbial button Jennifer Garner, who illuminates the screen with her dimpled cheek sass alongside her swift manner of infusing her otherwise perfunctory role with an intelligence and naturalness.  It could be argued that Garner’s presence alone elevates the lackluster material, and she is slowly emerging as one of the most versatile and underrated actress.  She also belongs on a very short list of female performers (next to...say...Sigourney Weaver) that are able to plausibly inhabit action hero (DAREDEVIL, ELEKTRA, and THE KINGDOM), comedic (13 GOING ON 30), and dramatic (JUNO and CATCH AND RELEASE) roles.  That's not as easy as it sounds. 

Ultimately, though, it’s the insipid and unimaginative script and McConaughey’s annoyingly spiteful turn as a one-dimensional, jive-talking, and remorseless male chauvinist pig that undermines the effectiveness of GHOST OF GIRLFRIEND’S PAST.  I mean, really, why would anyone – including the characters in this mindless film – find any redemptive potential in this hateful and unpleasant jerk?  He treats women like unfeeling blow-up dolls, nearly sabotages his brother’s wedding because of his contemptuous abhorrence of marriage, and is so appallingly full of himself that no amount of spiritual intervention could save this brute (by comparison, Ebenezer Scrooge was just an ill-adjusted and misunderstood grumpy old man).  Part of what makes rom-coms delightful is the audience’s emotional buy-in to the characters, but when you have one that makes you want to spray the screen with disinfectant, then what’s the point? 

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