Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
Directed by Mark Waters. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Emma Stone. (2009, PG-13, 100 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 1, 2009
Ghosts indeed: This romantic comedy by name alone attempts to make funny – not to mention culturally relevant – the kind of swinging-dick misogyny that went out of fashion years ago. In the spirit, but not the complexity, of such oil-slick cinematic seducers as Alfie and Roger Dodger's Roger Swanson, celebrity photographer Connor Mead (McConaughey) is a quantity-over-quality kind of guy. He dumps last week's conquests via teleconference as he's already undressing his next lay. Love, he argues, is nothing more than "magical comfort food for the weak and uneducated," a sentiment he lifted from his mentor, Uncle Wayne (Douglas). Wayne has been dead for years, but he makes a surprise appearance – to the eyes of Connor alone – at the wedding of Connor's younger brother, Paul (Meyer). Wayne, the Marley surrogate in this A Christmas Carol reimagining, then ushers Connor through an evening of reflection and reckoning, with the overall aim of nudging him back into the arms of his first love, Jenny (Garner, with negligible screen time). Several of the supporting players do nice work, especially Stone (Superbad) as the brace-faced ghost of Connor's first girlfriend; she injects a genuine spunkiness into a film that's mostly predictable and deeply cynical. As he's aged, Douglas has had some fun with go-big roles such as Wayne, and he appears to have styled this one after Hollywood mogul Robert Evans circa the Seventies: turtleneck and shades and swimming in sex. He's a quaint relic – not nearly as amusing as co-scripters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore seem to think he is – but harmless enough. Not so with McConaughey's wolfish Connor. Perhaps in the hands of a more capable, less coasting actor, the character might have played like something more than a toxic spill. (And make-up and wardrobe have done him no favors, with his Easy-Bake tan, attack of the Crest Whitestrips, and too-literal interpretation of Connor's oiliness; in duller stretches of the film, I could think of nothing but taking blotting papers to his face.) Director Waters, who began his career with the edgy, unsettling The House of Yes and also made the kicky Mean Girls, lately has been peddling much softer stuff (see 2005's insipid Just Like Heaven). Ghosts of Girlfriends Past requires a certain finesse – really, how do you sell a romantic comedy about a twisted womanizer, and how do you get the audience to buy his inevitable turnaround? – and neither Waters nor his leading man are up to the task.