Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Well, there’s actually only one Ghost of Girlfriends Past, but the film’s title does pretty aptly describe what’s going to happen in the film. Those of you who pay attention at Christmastime will notice a play on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, although the film is using the story far more liberally than you might initially think. It’s going to go through the entire three ghost storyline, just so that its main character, a “ladies’ man” photographer named Connor (Matthew McConaughey), can learn a thing or two about being a real person.

Connor is no Scrooge, and is nowhere near as needy in the “redemption” category. He doesn’t ruin Christmas for hundreds of people; instead, he just ruins the lives of every woman he meets … at least until they get over him. He has a charm, a gift, to make pretty much any woman fall in love with him. But, given that he had his heart broken once in middle school, and thanks to some advice he received from his uncle (Michael Douglas), he disappears before feeling anything back. So he’s a bit of a jerk, sure, and we understand that we’re supposed to root for him, but it’s hard to really hate him and then come around as he changes from “bad” to “good.”

Indifference is what I felt for most of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, in large part due to McConaughey failing completely to sell me on his character. I didn’t understand how he was charming — he was more creepy than anything for the most part — and when the transformation does inevitably come, I didn’t buy it. He wasn’t despicable enough to begin with, and he didn’t really seem to have learned anything by film’s end. It all seems artificial, and it’s really hard to care about it all because of this.

Anyway, the story involves Connor going to his brother’s wedding, seeing the girl he used to love, Jenny (Jennifer Garner), and then being visited by a threesome of ghosts. We have to learn everything about his past relationships, how his current ones are hurting people, and what will happen in his future if he continues down this path. Basically, he’s going through A Christmas Carol, except it’s not Christmas and there’s no carol.

And you know what? Cast any good looking, charismatic, 30/40-something male actor in the lead, and you’d actually have a very solid movie. You know, I enjoyed it enough as it is, but if McConaughey wasn’t in it, it probably would have been a whole lot better. There’s such a thing as being too arrogant and too confident, and that’s what happens here. He plays the surfer-dude that he usually does, and in no way helps make the film work.

But there are a lot of good elements to the film as well, and I can’t say I had a bad time while watching it. The first thing to say is that, for a romantic comedy, it happily sidesteps a lot of the clichés that come from the genre. Yeah, unlike the vast majority of rom-coms, it isn’t a clone of the template that has been made so famous — instead it’s just a clone of A Christmas Carol. It doesn’t have any awkward meeting between the two leads, they don’t fall in love and are separated by chance, and there isn’t even a last-ditch run to the airport/train station/whatever in order to salvage things once and for all.

I’ll grant you that the characters do fall in love, and there is one chase near the end, but it’s different from the formula. The film is even self-aware enough to make fun of some of the clichés, as well as itself. While it’s not exactly memorable — I can’t remember the specifics regarding these moments — it does provide some light-hearted fun at the time. That’s the same thing that can be said of the movie as a whole: It’s not groundbreaking by any stretch, but it’s enjoyable for the most part.

It also doesn’t really fit the rom-com descriptor, considering it rarely has romance or comedy on its mind. Sure, there are some parts that are romantic — it’s centered around a wedding, after all — but for the most part, it’s focused on getting this character to learn a lesson. And while there are some jokes and comedic situations, most of the time, the film doesn’t even try to be funny. Or when it does, like a time in which Connor tries to hold a wedding cake up while finding something to prop it up, it falls kind of flat.

This is also a film that, apart from McConaughey, features some fine performances. Leading the pack is Michael Douglas, in such a bizarre role that it takes a while to get used to him. But once you do, you appreciate him in it. Garner is energetic enough, while the bride and groom, Lacey Chabert and Breckin Meyer respectively, are fun to watch. The three ghosts, Emma Stone, Noureen DeWulf, and Olga Maliouk, are also enjoyable, even though the latter two get less time on-screen and far less dialogue.

Perhaps this movie will end up being a guilty pleasure of mine. I don’t necessarily believe in such things, but if you do, this one would be on my list. I liked it. I thought it was charming, full of energy, and simply light-hearted fun. It avoided many rom-com clichés, even if it would have been better with a … less confident actor in the lead role. Regardless, I had a good time with Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and I can’t not recommend it as a result, cheesy as it may be.

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