Movie Review: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

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A tender phrase used by the more chivalrous old-school gentlemen—the kind that still open doors, walk nearest to the street on sidewalks, and send flowers on days other than anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and birthdays—is to call the women in their life their “better half.” However, when it comes to Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey)—the James Bond who’s all smarm without the charm and Alfie without the accent or Michael Caine’s winning twinkle in his eye—there is no better half.

Despite this, he soldiers on and temporarily fills the void with plenty of one tenths to one fourths in an endless parade of Maxim meets GQ like skanks he manages to nail and drop as if the swinging ‘70s had never ended with the dawn of AIDS in the ‘80s. This all occurs via “relationships” that last anywhere from a few minutes in an airplane bathroom to two weeks at most before he dumps three women simultaneously while trying to shag another one via a video conference call at the start of the film.

Video Clip:
A Break-up in “Bulk”

The closest thing one could consider to be a better half in Connor’s life would be a full one-- a full person that is-- in the form of his younger brother Paul (Breckin Meyer).

Scheduled to be married to his adoring sweetheart (Lacey Chabert)-- unfortunately given the stereotypical role of an anxiety-ridden Bridezilla who freaks out when figs aren’t included on the salads she ordered; Paul is not only everything that McConaughay’s narcissistic classless cad is not but a staunch reminder when the two are next to each other that there’s absolutely nothing to like about our leading man.

Video Clip:
I Can’t Toast This

Of course, a movie about two crazy-in-love kids getting married isn’t the stuff that makes studios instantly green-light a picture—unless of course the bride turns into Bridezilla during the honeymoon as the groom meets a new dream girl (as was the case in the misogynistic Farrelly brothers remake of The Heartbreak Kid) or in two other Ben Stiller vehicles when he gets put through the mill after he's finally brought home to Meet the Parents and The Fockers.

And in—trying to squeeze in every romantic comedy cliché possible—there’s a little of Fockers inspired humor as Robert Forster tackles the role of Chabert’s former marine turned ordained minister father in one of the very, very few bright spots in this abysmal picture as a Korean war vet who just can’t seem to get over the fact that without a wall or a good movie, the only legacy the Korean war had was “a sitcom with Alan Alda.”

Couple this with Chabert’s sultry “MILF” Anne Archer as a woman Connor goes to second base with in a typically aggressive come-on and screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore seem to be milking the same terrain as their other New Line Cinema produced screenplay Four Christmases which—despite going a bit overboard in family dysfunction screenwriting exercises—had the pleasant bonus of actually making us laugh.

In Ghosts, McConaughey tries to rework the same tired shtick he’s done to better effect in the flawed but amusing How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (save for the awful final act) and Failure to Launch (rescued by scene-stealer Zooey Deschanel).

The problem is that there isn’t one redeemable characteristic about his character in this film, nor any chemistry with Jennifer Garner, and foolishly the filmmakers chose the wrong plot-line to follow as they decide to center the action on a character we wouldn’t want to spend one second with let alone more than one hundred minutes as he goes through a Dickensian Christmas Carol or Scrooged night of confronting his history with women.

Essentially little more than a sex addict except with what we assume is more self-control than the character that Sam Rockwell brought to life in last year’s Choke-- there is one plot line that does show a bit of promise as the film’s “host” for the ghostly activities is embodied by Michael Douglas, playing a Hugh Hefner, vintage swinging lady-killer who’d schooled the boy in as a youth on how to seduce women.

Of course, what the filmmakers don’t realize despite some great comedic work by Douglas (who incidentally had also worked in Fockers territory with his turn in the remake of The In-Laws) is that—like most of the movie, this particular story has been already made to much better effect in Dylan Kidd’s ingenious and brilliantly written independent film smash Roger Dodger starring Campbell Scott and Jesse Eisenberg.

So by the time you add up all the ingredients from Alfie to Fockers to Dodger-- which should all be rented to avoid paying the price of admission for this film-- basically what we’re left with is an inevitable romantic comedy wherein the cad must come of age, find the error of his ways and win back the girl he’s been hung up on since childhood in Jennifer Garner’s conveniently named Jenny.

Of course, Garner’s winning girl-next-door charm instinctively gets us on her side but there’s absolutely zero chemistry with McConaughey throughout. Sadly, she’s forced to portray a woman he doesn’t deserve and moreover one who would be far better off with another character in the film than the one in which we see in a sequence of supernatural idiocy get nearly drowned by the rain of tears cried by women he’s played, tissues they’ve wasted and condoms he’s used. Yeah--good times --and nothing says “get the saintly doctor Jenny together with the waste of space Connor” quite like a veritable and nauseating rain of condoms.

An all-around ugly and sexist film (to both genders), it's a reminder that one of my previously favored, life-affirming, and uplifting genres—the romantic comedy—has completely hit rock bottom. Films like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past are not only an affront to audiences as we keep getting served garbage like this but they’re also a fervent reminder of the power of an audience to determine the type of movies with which we’re presented if we just avoided works such as the tale of Connor Mead like the plague even though it's salvaged at times by the old-school charms of Forster and Douglas.

And while of course, thanks to the star power of the leads (including the lovely Jennifer Garner who wasn’t paid nearly enough to even be in a single frame) and the seemingly untouchable McConaughey who keeps getting work despite an endless string of disasters—it will make money-- if only because women want something to see in the wake of testosterone-addled summer pictures.

Despite this, my hope is that word-of-mouth will make it vanish like one of many ghosts in the film’s tired plot—already explored in another previous Waters film—Just Like Heaven and screenwriters will have to go back to the rom-com drawing board in figuring out how to delight us once again in films that, when done correctly can live-on for decades like It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Moonstruck, and When Harry Met Sally.