Ghosts of Girlfriends Past Lifts the Spirit a Bit
- Friday, May 01, 2009
DVD Release Date: September 22, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: May 1, 2009
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content throughout, some language and a drug reference)
Run Time: 100 min.
Director: Mark Waters
Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Anne Archer, Robert Forster, Emma Stone, Daniel Sunjata, Noureen DeWulf
Matthew McConaughey has a reputation. Unfortunately for him, it's not for his acting.
The joke among the crowd gathered for a preview screening of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past was how many minutes into the film would McConaughey appear shirtless. The actor, who showed such comedic promise in early roles like the lecherous loser in Dazed and Confused morphed into a preening leading man in such romantic comedies as Fool's Gold and Failure to Launch. Along the way, he became known more for showing off his physique than for showing any acting chops.
McConaughey regained some of his comic mojo as the sleazy agent in last year's send-up of pampered Hollywood actors, Tropic Thunder. Now, as Connor Mead in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, he's playing a sleazeball of another type—a Scrooge character known not for stinginess, but for a string of women he's bedded and left behind. The jokes and discussion about Connor's sexual escapades push the film well into "PG-13" territory, but the central character's transformation, while predictable, gives the film a bit more depth—just a bit—than might be expected.
The film takes its structure from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol: A callous character gets a wake-up call from the ghost of someone once close to him—in this case, Michael Douglas, as Connor's Uncle Wayne, who raised Connor after the death of the young boy's parents and taught him all his womanizing ways.
The traits haven't paid off for Connor, but he's too shallow and commitment-phobic to realize it. As a grown man, he's a fashion photographer who lives in the fast lane, loving and leaving women without consequences.
Heading to the wedding of his brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer), Connor tries to convince him to back out of the planned nuptials and live the libidinous life Connor has been pursuing since adolescence. But Paul isn't interested in Connor's lifestyle, nor are the several bridesmaids Connor has previously slept with—including Jenny (Jennifer Garner), who was burned long ago by a sexual encounter with the photographer.
Enter three ghosts: One who will show him his sad, sordid past; one who will show him his bleak present; and one who will show him his grim future. The past includes a peek at Connor's budding adolescent romance with Jenny, the way he lost her to an older student at a school dance, and his subsequent descent into a partying lifestyle. As Connor views the wreckage of his love life, his philosophy of commitment undergoes a change. His bad night will end just in time for him to see the light, confess his love to his soul mate and salvage his brother's wedding.
The parallels to A Christmas Carol aren't strict and the story isn't as powerful, but Ghosts has a decent amount of laughs—OK, mostly chuckles, but with the drumbeat of grim national news as of late, a little fluff goes a long ways. It's a predictable mishmash, but McConaughey plays the jerk quite well and is convincing enough in his transformation. Garner, who brought such warmth to Juno, connects again as the hardened but still vulnerable Jenny. The film's most problematic area is the free talk about sexual exploits, which already oversaturate today's pop culture. The story uses those references to make a point about a better way to live, but that message applies mainly to Connor. The other sex-based jokes are crude and work against the film's broader point, rather than underlining it.
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