A film review by Craig J. Koban
MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND
2006, PG-13, 95 mins.
Uma Thurman: Jenny/G-Girl / Luke Wilson: Matt Saunders / Anna Farris: Hannah / Rainn Wilson: Vaughn / Eddie Izzard: Professor Bedlam
Directed by Ivan Reitman / Written by Don Payne
Being a lifelong fan of comic books I have often engaged myself in fantastical “what if” scenarios while I lay awake on those sleepless nights.
For example, what would having sex with a super hero be like?
Ivan Reitmen’s very funny new comedy, MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND, poses and thankfully answers this question. I guess the simplest answer to it would be this – make sure you get a really well reinforced bed frame and head board.
This film is an interesting take on the romantic comedy and super hero genres. Flings and romantic relationships has been a staple of most super hero films (Superman had his Lois Lane, Batman had his Vicki Vale, Spider-man had his Mary Jane Watson, and so forth). Yet, Reitman’s film seems to have been spawned by many of comic films’ inability to showcase the highlights from the heroes’ own bedroom. Sure, we get glimpses here and there of our favourite costume clad crusaders trying to woe the women of their dreams, but it’s after the courtship where these films tend to shut the doors on us. I mean, honestly, wouldn’t Superman give Lois Lane the best sex she’s ever, ever had? In SUPERMAN II Kal-El did, in fact, bed the intrepid reporter, but he did so sans his Kryptonian powers. This, of course, leads all of us other pragmatists to consider the alternative.
This is why MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND works on some many of its divergent levels. First, it’s a cute and funny romantic comedy. Secondly, it’s a wickedly droll super hero satire. Thirdly, it’s a comic book film that flips conventions on their heads a little bit. More often than not we see the straight arrow male hero pine for the affection of a more mortal female. Reitman and screenwriter Don Payne take that premise and gladly retool it. In their treatment it’s a lonely mortal man that is looking to score with the hero (who in this case is a woman) who initially does not want companionship. The interesting twist on the story is the overall character arc of the female hero. What if you dated this hero and then realized that she was not the one for you? What if you dumped her? To complicate things, what if she was a clingy, needy, emotionally unstable and obsessive girl that will not take 'no' for an answer? Think a zanier FATAL ATTRACTION where the girl does not boil your favourite pet rabbit, but instead can hurtle a great white shark into your bed and burn your hair with her heat vision and you kind of get the overall idea.
The always likeable and dependable Luke Wilson plays shy and timid Matt Sanders, an ordinary 9 to 5 guy yearning for someone he can love and take care of. He has a bit of a crush on his co-worker Hannah (Anna Farris) but since she is hooked up with a perfect looking underwear model, he realizes that he has to start looking elsewhere. His friend (played in a very funny performance by Rain Wilson) manages to convince Matt to say hello to a meager and timid looking girl on the subway. The somewhat nerdy girl, Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman) seems to want to have nothing to do with Matt, that is until he risks his well-being to recover her purse from a crook.
Jenny’s an odd woman. She seems nervous, fidgety, paranoid, and distracted. She nevertheless agrees to go out on a date with the down-on-his-luck Matt and it does not go too well. One date in particular seems to frustrate Matt to no apparent end. He talks endlessly while she does not seem to listen, and she sure seems to go on extended trips to the bathroom an awful lot. Well, what he does not realize at this point is that his mild-mannered date is actually a super-powered heroine named G-Girl, who is New York’s most famous, invulnerable crime fighter. After she leaves their date briefly to go and put out a raging high-rise fire, she returns to Matt (with some ash on her face) and wants to start over fresh. Eventually, they make their way back to Matt’s house for some fun.
Inevitably, sex for the two goes…well…strangely, at least from Matt’s prerogative. She is able to rip off his pants by barely tugging at them and when they finally start to…ya know…the momentum is so powerful that the entire bed moves and large holes are put in the adjoining wall. Matt, of course, takes it all with a perplexed eye and a grain of salt. He wakes up the next morning (awfully tired and weak) and decides to give Jenny more of a chance. And besides, she’s amazing in the sack.
The two begin a relationship, even as Matt continues to have his misgivings and concerns. To him, Jenny is cute and all, but she really is a neurotic person. As they continue with their fling Matt soon begins to realize that he really loves Hannah. By this time he has discovered that Jenny is really a super hero, so he tries to find a very, very sensitive way to break up with her. Jenny has a really hard time dealing with rejection and, unfortunately for Matt, she shows what an unstable woman she is capable of being. Even direr is the fact that her super archenemy Doctor Bedlam (the funny Eddie Izzard) wants to seek revenge against G-Girl. When it becomes apparent that Jenny has become a real possessive nut and looks like she’ll never leave him alone, Matt also tries to find a way to neutralize her once and for all.
MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND hits several right comic notes. The script is colorful and inventive in the way that it takes a dime a dozen concept and gets a lot of new mileage out of it. The film manages to be faithful to the overall super hero mythology (right down to the hero and basic comic book conceits, like secret identities, powers, and mortal weaknesses) while lampooning them for sarcastic and spirited laughs. The film also follows the basic formula of romantic comedies (including the meet cute and the subsequent rocky relationship), but the real tangible difference here is that the scorned woman is an all-powerful scorned woman. Usually, super heroes that can’t score get all introverted and melancholy. Not G-Girl.
She takes girl power to a whole new twisted level. It’s one thing when you are a normal woman and you can just use words as your weapons. In G-Girl’s case, she is able to go far beyond that. She is able to pick up (literally) Matt’s car and launch it into outer space, crash through his apartment window and trash it, throw him up against the wall with her super breath, and – in the film’s funniest scene – interrupts a tender moment between him and Hannah by throwing a live shark (fresh from the ocean) right at them. The message here is obvious: don’t get involved with a domineering and unstable woman who just happens to be a super hero. You just can’t dump them in quite the same way.
Despite the obvious high concept and silly nature of the underlining material, the two leads make the comedy work. Luke Wilson is well cast as the ill-fated everyman that desperately tries to get the message across to G-Girl that – despite her obvious assets – their relationship is not what he bargained for. Luke is a bit shyer and more inhibited than, say, his brother Owen, but those characteristics work for the overall arc of the story and his character. Uma Thurman is a plucky sport playing a larger than life persona. Just as she demonstrated in last year’s wonderfully madcap THE PRODUCERS, Thurman shows how adept she is at broad comedy in her dual role. She has a difficult task in the sense that she has to play rigidly against genre-type. She’s not the Girl Scout immortal hero with a heart of gold. G-Girl is a mean-spirited and edgy bitch that’s kind of pugilistic and spiteful. It’s sort of refreshing to see a comic book hero in a movie that fights for truth and justice, but develops a real bad temper when she is told that she is not loved. Thurman gives her part the necessary spunk, sex appeal, and darkly energetic ferocity that makes the comedy zing.
Ivan Reitman – at least if you look at his film resume – seems well schooled at handling this material. He is use to marrying million dollar visual effects and action spectacle with off-the-wall humor and whimsy (see GHOSTBUSTERS). Even when his films have fantastical storylines he nevertheless gives them a goofy and crazy amiability. After a series of real humorless stinkers over the last few years (like the witless and dumb FATHER’S DAY and the universally embarrassing Harrison Ford/Anne Heche vehicle, SIX DAYS SEVEN NIGHTS), MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND is a moderately strong return to funny form for the veteran comedic director. This, no doubt, is greatly assisted by Payne’s well-oiled and breezy script (he is no stranger to madcap comedy, having written many great SIMPSON episodes).
With two main leads that are well cast and tonally spot on, a wickedly daft and intelligent script that plays against formulas, and the assured and competent eye of Ivan Reitman behind the camera, MY SUPER-EX-GIRLFRIEND emerges as a light-weight gigglefest of a comic book/romantic comedy satire that packs a respectable wallop. The film has a good time pondering what a love life would be like between a dopey and naïve man and a clingy and needy super hero who just so happens to be Manhattan’s most powerful (and psychologically rickety) bachelorette. The film is pure cornball, but it keenly demonstrates a refreshing amount of deftness with its premise. It’s funny in the right dosages and smart in the way it skewers typical audience expectations for super hero and romance films. For what it’s worth, MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND is a high-energy spoof that makes for enjoyable summer popcorn escapism. And on a more important note, it gives us all a much needed sneak peak into the bedroom habits of super heroes to show us how the fictional other half lives. I mean, the super heroine in the film at least gives new meaning to the Mile High Club.