A film review by Craig J. Koban
GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST
2009, PG-13, 100 mins.
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
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
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
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
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,
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?