New Line // 2009 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // September 22nd, 2009
You can't always run from your past
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is an unfortunate film that provides a perfectly decent opening half before succumbing to a pitifully overblown and schmaltzy final 45 minutes. In a year where the rancid like of The Proposal and The Ugly Truth have been the big gunners in the rom-com genre, one should probably be grateful that Ghosts of Girlfriends Past manages even a watchable half, but with 20 minutes shaved off its runtime I sort of suspect this could have become a recent genre favorite. As it stands, the movie is better than most of its loved-up peers, but given the current state of romantic comedies, that's pretty feint praise.
Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey, Sahara) is an oversexed and fabulously wealthy photographer whose creed on the topic of women is shag them quickly, dump them quicker. Connor rolls up to his kid bother Paul's (Breckin Meyer, Rat Race) wedding, envisioning a weekend of good scotch and desperate bridesmaids, his love for his little brother the only reason he's tolerating the ceremony at all. Upon arrival he meets old flame Jenny (Jennifer Garner, Daredevil) who rejects the philandering womanizing and acidic quips that everyone else seems to admire. Connor takes no heed of her warnings until strange things happen, namely the appearance of ghosts. First it's his deceased playboy uncle (Michael Douglas, Basic Instinct) warning him against the sexed up lifestyle, followed swiftly by the Ghost of Girlfriends Past (Emma Stone, Superbad). They take him through his past, present and possible future to show him the error of his ways and prove that Jenny might not have been just another notch on his bedpost.
As I mentioned, 2009 has thus far been pretty thin on good romantic comedies, the like of The Hangover and I Love You, Man meaning that bromance is flourishing at the expense of more typical guy-meets-gal films. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is, in contrast to other recent rom-com offerings, a far less offensive consumer of time; indeed, the opening half is a solid blend of slapstick, good jokes, and even a few touching moments. However, the film fails to hold the momentum and tumbles to a rocky climax, its second segment's blend of sappy moralizing, dull plot convulsions, and Emma Stone-less runtime reducing the movie to the level of joyless bore.
The performances are actually pretty strong, though I would like to think a more suitable actor than McConaughey was available to fill the role of Connor. As an action guy McConaughey is viable but for me he struggles in other arenas, his work here perfunctory but ultimately uninspired. It doesn't help that around him others flourish, even Breckin Meyer succeeds to a degree that surpasses the leading man. Don't get me wrong, McConaughey doesn't butcher the part, but his performance is generic and the character as a result is consigned to the ever growing scrapheap for unmemorable leads in romantic comedies. Jennifer Garner is considerably better though even she is upstaged by two other female participants, Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls) and Emma Stone. The former plays Paul's bride to be and gets several of the movies biggest chuckles, her pre-marital meltdowns a good primer for some funny slapstick and acerbic dialogue. Chabert is an underused actress on the Hollywood scene and has proven on several occasions that she can match many a bigger name pound for pound in the comedy playing field, maybe next time she'll get the opportunity to give her leading lady chops a run. Emma Stone is excellent as the first ghost, playing the part as an awkward teen that had the dubious honor of being Connor's first time. Much like Anna Faris (whom she worked with on The House Bunny) Stone can elevate material with her energy and whiplash delivery; certainly it's her who draws the best moments out of McConaughey. Michael Douglas pops up and seemingly has fun doing the old horn dog routine, though he brings little new or fresh to the table.
The writing is for the first 50 minutes at least unusually good, the jokes well aimed and the characters shrewdly fleshed out. The natural chemistry between Garner and McConaughey (which is average at best) is given a neat bolster from some witty banter and clever set-pieces, if it weren't for the all encompassing narrative some moments displayed here might have operated nicely under the guise of sketch comedy. The romance works well in the initial chapter too, Mark Waters opting for a slowburn build-up of repressed feelings, leaving the sweet and saccharine gubbins for his rubbishy finish. Maybe I'm being a little harsh on Ghosts of Girlfriends Past; it does after all serve up a segment of agreeable tomfoolery and lovesick pining, but then again why provide a decent main course if you're going to accompany it with a shoddy dessert?
The ending is irredeemably drawn out and brimming with unintentionally cringe-inducing monologues, one in particular between Chabert and the McConaughey probably representing the movie's nadir. The romance and comedy are botched in equal measure towards the end and at 100 minutes Waters displays a troubling lack of scene discrimination in the editing room. It's clear the movie is bloated and strung out, had the running been cut down by 20 minutes I suspect this would have been a far more satisfying film. It would still be fluffy, but I can tolerate fluff that doesn't wear out its welcome. By the end, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is asking to be kicked out the door.
The movie earns its PG-13 rating, the humour occasionally raunchy and the opening 10 minutes stuffed with as many scantily clad women as the screen can possibly hold. Parents would do well to reserve this title for the pre-teens, otherwise there could be a few awkward questions posed on movie and pizza night. There are sporadic CGI effects strewn throughout the movie and they're perfectly fine, though a slow motion dive by the leading man near the end does end up looking a bit laughable.
New Line has provided absolutely no supplementary material for this release, bar the ability to view the movie in both widescreen and fullscreen mode. For the record, I opted for the former, the picture crisp and colours vibrant and nicely defined. The audio is pretty good too. Still, a few deleted scenes or a 10 minute making off might have been nice...ehhh?
The DVD release is pretty crappy and the film is a decidedly mixed bag. Wouldn't go as far to say that it should be avoided at all costs but by the same token, wouldn't advise you spend your money on it. Just wait until it shows up on cable in a few years time.
The film is guilty, but not bad enough to warrant serious legal action. The
DVD on the other hand deserves a life sentence.
Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13