Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Movie Review: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past * ½
Directed By:
Mark Waters.
Written By: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey (Connor Mead), Jennifer Garner (Jenny Perotti), Michael Douglas (Uncle Wayne), Emma Stone (Allison Vandermeersh), Breckin Meyer (Paul), Lacey Chabert (Sandra), Robert Forster (Sergeant Volkom), Anne Archer (Vonda Volkom), Daniel Sunjata (Brad), Noureen DeWulf (Melanie), Rachel Boston (Deena the Bridesmaid), Camille Guaty (Donna the Bridesmaid), Amanda Walsh (Denice the Bridesmaid), Emily Foxler (Nadja).

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past actually has a pretty interesting premise for a movie – at least for a romantic comedy. A seemingly heartless womanizer, Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey) goes to his brother’s wedding, and on the night before, he gets visited, Dickens style, by four ghosts. The first is his dead Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), who taught him how to be a heartless bastard, then by the Ghost of Girlfriend’s Past (Emma Stone), then by the Present, and finally by the future. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Connor Mead learns the error of his ways, and decides to stop being such a dick. He has been in love with Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner) for his whole life, but blew his one real chance with her. Now, she’s the Maid of Honor at the wedding, so he sees it as his second chance. Can he really win her back? What do you think?

The problem with the movie is not the idea behind it, but the execution. I am reminded of Stephen Frears’ great High Fidelity, in which John Cusack goes back and revisits his five most painful break-ups in his life to determine where he went so wrong, and why he is alone. That was a movie that while being extremely funny, was also rather insightful into modern day relationships. Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past takes a similar idea, throws in a supernatural twist, and completely fumbles it. What the hell went wrong?

It would be easy to lay all the blame at the feet of Matthew McConaughey – after all is there a more vacuous actor currently working in movies other than him? But McConaughey, to his credit seems to know what his limitations are, and so he never picks very challenging material, because he knows he cannot handle it. As Connor Mead, McConaughey delivers precisely the performance he is supposed to give – he is moderately charming, moderately funny and uses his killer smile to great effect. It’s not great acting, but it’s what McConaughey does best. Jennifer Garner is less successful. Why does she always look so dour in every movie she does? It worked wonders in Juno, but most of the time I see her, she looks miserable. Although I wasn’t really a fan of the movie, I must say I wish she would go back and let loose again like she did in 13 Going on 30, where she really was a lot of fun. Michael Douglas is on autopilot in the movie, playing an older version of his regular, smarmy rich guy persona. He isn’t very good, but he isn’t bad either. Breckin Meyer is overly earnest as Connor’s brother Paul – he looks like a puppy dog you just kicked throughout the whole movie. Lacey Chabert, who can either be charming or annoying, picks the later as Paul’s fiancée. The rest of the cast – including previous Oscar nominees Robert Forster and Anne Archer – don’t do much of anything either. The one exception is Emma Stone as Allison Vandermeersh, the Ghost of Girlfriend’s Past herself, who is funny and charming, in her off handed, geeky/goofy way that she does better than just about anyone else right now. I have loved her ever since Superbad, and no matter how bad some of the movies she has been in since are, I continue to love her in every movie I see her in. When she’s on screen in this movie, the films picks up a notch.

The real problem with the movie is that the screenplay by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, just isn’t very funny, intelligent, insightful or anything else. It’s one autopilot throughout the whole movie, picking the path of least resistance at every turn. We know there will be comic misunderstandings, and that petty arguments will arise to keep the intended couples apart, that there will be a big speech where everything gets resolved, etc. And that’s precisely what happens. Why does every romantic comedy have to follow the exact same outline? Can’t anyone come up with something at least a little bit different in these movies? Seriously, romantic comedies have become more repetitive than slasher movies.

Perhaps I am being too hard on Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past. The movie really does accomplish what it sets out to do. I just have to wonder if perhaps it would have accomplished more had it shown even the slightest bit of ambition. As it stands, I think people who love romantic comedies will probably at least enjoy this movie. For someone like me, who has seen enough of these types of movies to last a lifetime, the movie is just plain boring.

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