Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a leaden, slightly misogynistic, romantic-comedy reimagining of Dickens’s Christmas Carol. Matthew McConaughey, in full smarmy “heeeey there” drawl, is the romantic Scrooge who shows up at his brother’s wedding (Breckin Meyer and Lacey Chabert play the bride and groom) and makes everyone unhappy until a visit from three ghosts - you know the drill - makes him stranger but ultimately more pleasant to be around. Will he also learn that Jennifer Garner really is the love of his life? Take a guess.

This is a particularly uninvolving movie and a dumb, slow, uneven one as well. There’s no wit or imagination to the proceedings, no human spark. The characters move about as plot delivery devices, talking only in vapid generalities. The movie is not even particularly well-shot, often resembling a bad sitcom at worst with hacky passionless workmanlike framing at best. Director Mark Waters has directed two pretty good comedies - Mean Girls and the remake of Freaky Friday - but seems unable to make this material into anything worthwhile. Maybe it's the ghosts; his Just Like Heaven didn't really work either, but at least it had some nice moments.

Ghosts is the kind of movie where I found myself scrambling to get an entry point into the material to no avail. It’s too bland, too vanilla, too predictable, and too predictably bad. The best I could find was the welcome presence of screen veterans Robert Forster and Anne Archer as the bride’s parents. They haven’t been in anything good in a long time, but they bring some class and dignity with them and are miles more compelling than any other characters in this wreck. Their wrinkled, twinkly faces don’t grace the screen often enough, and their characters are left in the background most of the time. That the best moment the two of them are allowed is shoved in the margins of the end credits is a shame. I would have followed those two out of this movie and into a better one if I could have.

The biggest problem with the movie, beyond the general lackluster scripting and execution, is McConaughey himself. He drawls and leers and is expected to gain our sympathy throughout his ordeal. That doesn’t happen. He just drawls and leers some more until there’s a mad rush in the third act to make us believe he changed. The movie still would have been bad had this been handled better but shouldn’t an attempt to moralize and sermonize have a better grasp on its own message? The point the movie ends up making is: objectify women until it doesn’t make you feel good. How’s that for a take-home lesson? Aesop it ain’t.

This is a fairly terrible time at the movies. It is not good that the best I can say for it is that it didn't make me churn with anger. When the woman sitting behind me changed from repeating lines to her group to predicting lines for her group, I knew the movie was a particular brand of bad. That she still seemed to be enjoying herself was merely depressing. I should have just seen Star Trek for the third time instead.

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