Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Cast:
Matthew McConaughey as Connor Mead
Jennifer Garner as Jenny Perotti
Michael Douglas as Uncle Wayne
Breckin Meyer as Paul
Lacey Chabert as Sandra
Robert Forster as Sergeant Volkom
Anne Archer as Vonda Volkom
Emma Stone as Allison Vandermeersh
Daniel Sunjata as Brad
Noureen DeWulf as Melanie
Rachel Boston as Deena the Bridesmaid
Camille Guaty as Donna the Bridesmaid
Amanda Walsh as Denice the Bridesmaid
Emily Foxler as Nadja
Catherine Haena Kim as Charlece

Directed by Mark S. Waters

Summary:
As much as “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” delivers exactly what is advertised, for a comedy that doesn’t require a lot of heavy thinking, it tries hard not to dumb things down too much, nor skimp on character or storytelling either.

Story:
Fashion photographer Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey) is a notorious ladies man, who’s often juggling a half dozen women at a time. When he attends his younger brother’s wedding, he’s reminded of the feelings he once had for his childhood sweetheart Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), but as he fights those feelings, he’s visited by the ghost of his womanizing mentor, Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), who tells his protégé to expect visits from ghosts of three of his past girlfriends who’ll help set him straight.

Analysis:
As someone who has sat through any number of bad formula romantic comedies and far too many of them starring Matthew McConaughey, it’s somewhat disconcerting to think that he might have found a vehicle that finally breaks the trend, but you know what? “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” isn’t half-bad, because it never tries to be something other than what it promises, a comedy version of “A Christmas Carol” with a twist. Anyone who loved Bill Murray’s “Scrooged” should be able to enjoy at least some of what director Mark Waters (“Freaky Friday,” “Mean Girls”) does with the material; it’s doubtful this movie would have worked even remotely in the hands of a lesser filmmaker.

Connor Mead isn’t much of a stretch for McConaughey, a photographer who has access to the hottest women who will disrobe at his command. He’s not particularly nice to the women who fall for him, as we watch him break up with three of them via conference call. Connor’s younger brother (played by Breckin Meyer) is getting married to his needy girlfriend (Lacey Chabert) but as a staunch advocate against marriage, Connor tries to talk his brother out of it. Her maid-of-honor is Jenny Perotti (Garner), Connor’s childhood sweetheart, the two of them not having talked after he deserted after a passionate evening together. Connor is soon visited by the “Marley’s Ghost” in the form of his philandering mentor Uncle Wayne, essentially Michael Douglas paying tribute to Hugh Hefner and Hollywood producer Bob Evans. Connor is forced to relieve his earlier years with Jenny and other women with the help of a number of “ghosts” who want to open his eyes to the real meaning of love. Unbeknownst to Connor, Jenny is being set-up with the perfect guy, a hot doctor named Brad (Daniel Sunjata), and Connor has to scramble if he wants to win Jenny back.

The thought of setting a romantic comedy in the world of “A Christmas Carol” might seem like the simplest and most obvious high concept premise one can find, but you should be able to tell from the above that there’s far more going on in this movie that help its Dickensian twists work in this context. Just as that story has been used to get would-be Scrooges into the Christmas spirit, one can see how this movie might convince unromantic womanizing louts to accept their true feelings. (Wisely, the movie doesn’t take place during the holidays, which probably would have taken the idea too far.)

For years, there’s been a fairly big divide between the movies McConaughey made for guys (“Frailty”) and those he did for the ladies (“Failure to Launch”). “Fool’s Gold” tried to bring the sexes together, but “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” actually succeeds without trying as hard. Women will immediately bond over their hatred towards Connor’s womanizing ways, but men will secretly admire him and wish they could be that way. Over the course of the film, Connor becomes less of a one-dimensional jerk and more of a sympathetic character, which is why it actually does succeed on a number of levels. By comparison, Garner isn’t exactly trying hard to get away from her normal role, so she often is forced to take a backseat to McConaughey in their scenes together.

The results are something more layered than the typical man-hating chick flick, more in the straight comedy vein of “Wedding Crashers.” If you’re merely a Dickens fan, you should enjoy the way the concept is used to save the movie from being merely another “meet cute” rom-com. That’s best exemplified by the presence of Emma Stone, completely glammed-down as Connor’s first sex partner–a loud-mouthed teenager with braces and crazy big hair–who takes Connor through his past. It’s a memorable comic character on par with Alyson Hannigan in the first “American Pie,” and it quickly turns things around and sets the movie on a better course. Scenes from the commercial like Connor facing all of the women he’s dated and slept with is even funnier with Stone offering a play-by-play.

Like “Wedding Crashers,” there’s lots of great supporting players around the two leads, not all of them trying to steal the show as is often the case. Breckin Meyer is terrific as Connor’s younger brother, essentially playing the only remotely normal grounded person in the film. On the other hand, the three horny bridesmaids quickly grow tiring with their desperate attempts at getting wedding sex and Lacey Chabert has been funnier without being nearly as whiny; toning those aspects of the film would have gone a long way to making it better, at least for any guy forced to watch it. On the other hand, Noureen DeWulf is quite funny as Connor’s take-no-sh*t personal assistant, especially when she shows up as the Ghost of Girlfriends Present and puts her boss in his place.

The comedy generally works because the writers–who punched up the humor in New Line’s holiday hit “Four Christmases” and wrote Todd Phillips’ upcoming “The Hangover”–have mixed a lot of different types of humor, not just silly slapstick and pratfalls, but also a healthy dose of raunchy and risqué laughs. That said, things do start to get a bit too ridiculous towards the end as Connor’s shenanigans threaten to ruin his brother’s wedding, and he’s forced to save the day, leading to a somewhat ridiculous car chase. Compared to other comedies in this vein, it’s not the type of dealbreaker that might ruin one’s enjoyment of the rest of the movie, and overall, it’s entertaining more often than not.

The Bottom Line:
For a high concept comedy that seems to offer little more than what might be expected by its premise, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is surprisingly rich in laughs and emotion. While there are certainly groan-worthy moments that resort to formula comedy, they’re often juxtaposed with moments that are genuinely sweet and even touching.

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