Ghosts of Girlfriends Past Review

This is a review that I wrote as an audition for a place at a larger University-wide newspaper.  There was a strict word limit, which is why it is terser than my other posts.  I tried to present an even-handed critique of a bad romantic comedy I’d been brought to by my then-girlfriend.  The response from the committee was that I should have savaged it.  Damn you, Matthew McConaughey!  This is the last time you receive mercy from me.

Director: Mark Waters ; Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Robert Forster ; Running Time: 100 mins ; Certificate: 12A

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a reworking of the classic “A Christmas Carol” formula in which self-centred  womaniser Connor Mead (McConaughey) is visited by three spectres who lead him through his past, present and future relationships in a bid to show him the error of his ways and win the heart of true love Jenny Perotti (Garner).

This film very nearly lost me at the title.  It’s just too awkward to say and things got worse before they got better.  Prior to the central premise actually kicking in, the film is pretty excruciating to watch.  It’s almost offensively unfunny and repetitive with some awful dialogue and poorly executed, often gimmicky, physical comedy.  This sets the tone for much of the rest of the film.  I didn’t find McConaughey a particularly effective leading man, either, and he seemed incapable of speaking clearly.

Things pick up with the arrival of Michael Douglas as the ghost of the man who taught Connor everything he knows.  Douglas really has fun with the role and has some laugh-out-loud lines.  He steals the show in each of his scenes and his presence is sorely missed.  Garner’s character is underused, while all of the secondary characters are each defined by a single personality trait (often one shared between a group) that was usually unsettlingly stereotypical.

I did find myself coming round to the film as it went on and it is to be admired for trying to touch on many aspects of real relationships without being saccharine, though it does, perhaps, suffer from taking itself too seriously.  It’s most impressive aspect is that it doesn’t cop out completely and allows its characters to learn very human lessons and has some refreshingly questionable notions of how people fall in love and what truly motivates Connor to change. Towards the end I found all of the emotion believable and surprisingly understated and felt genuinely moved.

It really is rather a sweet film in the end, but with the exception of Michael Douglas there weren’t enough laughs and I don’t think I can recommend it.  It’s not terrible, but there are much better romantic comedies out there.

Originally written 1 June 2009.

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