Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Worse Than We Had Predicted, Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past Is Unredeemably Bad!

The Good: Soundtrack
The Bad: Acting, Plot predictability, Direction, Character development, Continuity contradictions.
The Basics: Utterly unredeemable, Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past is a terrible film that reinforces negative stereotypes about women and treats men badly, too. No entertainment value.

My wife and I have different tastes in movies, but it seems like lately I have been picking more winners. Indeed, she was concerned she would fall asleep during X-Men Origins: Wolverine, yet squeezed my hand at all of the shocking moments and after begrudging me (quietly) the two hour drive and hour wait in line to a screening of Star Trek eagerly talked about it with me and anyone who would listen. But from the previews, she was eager to see Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past. As she observed afterward, "even people who went in with low expectations will be disappointed."

She is right; I went in figuring that the best moments were in the trailer and the irony of that is that some of the best moments stay in the trailer. The trailers had moments cut from the final film and the result is even less funny than the concept. But if you want to save yourself time and money, here is the simplest possible explanation of Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past: women are idiots and sluts, men are dogs who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. That's not me saying that, it is the message that comes through loud and clear in the film and those who like good chick flicks will cringe at how bad this is both as a "chick flick" and as a film in general.

Connor Mead is a photographer who shoots women in their underwear and who is not tied to any one woman. In fact, as he works to seduce a new singer, he breaks up with his three latest prior conquests, then abandons his latest chick for his brother's wedding where he has bedded all but one of the bridesmaids in the past. As Connor tries to convince his brother, Paul, to flee marrying Sandra, he is reunited with the arguable love of his life, Jenny. Jenny continues to reject Connor and Connor looks to hook up with the last bridesmaid at the wedding.

This is when Connor and Paul's dead uncle Wayne appears to Connor and tells him he will be visited by three ghosts, who will teach him a lesson on love. Connor is soon visited by the Ghost of Girlfriends Past, who illustrates to him how poorly he has treated women, then reminds him of the relationship he had with Jenny and how he left after the first time they made love. As Connor wrestles with the understanding he might have left the love of his life walk out in the past, Paul and Sandra get cold feet and Connor must apply his newfound heart to saving the imperiled couple.

Sometimes, simplest is best: Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past is stupid and insulting. My apparent generalization before is, unfortunately, not a generalization. Women in the film are treated atrociously and the men are little better, but certainly no worse. There is an undertone of misogyny in the way Connor treats women like objects, but they not only let him, they encourage him. Then they act like surprised idiots when he abandons them the way he abandoned everyone else. The height of this sickness is arguably reached at the beginning when the new up-and-coming superstar witnesses Connor treat three women poorly, encourages him to bed her and allows herself to be seduced with the line "come to papa" (which is much grosser in context than it sounds out of). This, however, is "arguably" the low point for women being treated badly by themselves (because, again, women in this film are sluts and/or idiots) because later a woman responds to Uncle Wayne by approaching him with the line, "She might not be into that kind of thing, but I am!"

But the most important idiot, er, woman, is Jenny. Jenny appears as a strong female character from the outset, rejecting Connor and keeping him at arm's length. We soon see why; despite a childhood together, when she rejected Connor at a middle school dance, Connor became a misogynistic dog. Ten years later, he woos her only to leave her. The stupidity here in Jenny takes the form that she let him in to begin with, despite correctly analyzing his tendencies, and that she still pines for him now. Jenny's whole catchphrase throughout the movie in relation to Connor is "not as dumb as he looks, folks." The problem is, Jenny IS! Seeing him again turns Jenny into mush, which helps reinforce the old concept that women want the bad boy and the project.

This is, unfortunately, not the only message being reinforced throughout the movie. The positive message is a remarkably conservative "fidelity pays off and everyone ends up with who they are 'supposed' to" message, all within a heterosexual and ethnically conservative sensibility. As a result, as the movie ends with people pairing off, the film's two most recognizable ethnic characters make a love connection and the viewer is afforded one final cringe in a movie filled with them. Sandra is a neurotic caricature of a bride and this reinforces, like many of the movie's other messages, that women live entirely for the bridal day and that this is the socially appropriate way for them to be . . . neurotic.

As well, men are dogs, but that is okay as long as someday they settle down. This is reinforced pretty obviously by Connor and Uncle Wayne, but the more troubling message is that men refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Connor only bucks this trend in the final moments of the movie, but his character is such a ridiculous trainwreck anyway (I'd mention the specific moment in the last minutes that was so ridiculous that it did not fit, but I'd ruin it for the one person reading who did not see the movie trailer, because the trailer DID show virtually the entire movie) that it is hard to care.

The most problematic aspect of Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past is that the Dickensian message being spread in it is unfortunately inapplicable in the specific circumstances. Connor is learning a Very Valuable Lesson about the strength of love. He learns the lesson in time to try to save the romance between Sandra and Paul and pursue Jenny at arguably the last moment he will have to get her. The thing is, Sandra and Paul's romance is beleaguered on the eve of their wedding not because they suddenly learn a new fact about each other, but because their fundamentals are not solid and that fact upsets Sandra to a ridiculous extent. In other words, Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past annoyingly supports a romance that is not firm enough to survive on its own because it is not a decent romance. Only in the movies do people lie to one another up to the wedding day, have a real conflict about that and salvage the wedding day. In the real world, people come clean early, delay the wedding or don't get married, more often than films show any of those consequences.

As for the acting, this is not the Jennifer Garner of Catch And Release and my wife is convinced that Matthew McConaughey is trying to be Adam Sandler in his role as Connor Mead. Either way, they have utterly no chemistry on screen. The only other noteworthy acting comment would be that Lacey Chabert appears to be contractually obligated to give her teeth screen time in every moment of the film. No performer in this film ought to be proud of the final result.

There are a few good lines in Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, but for every good line, there is a cringer and one that reinforces a negative stereotype. And for those who want to write it off as "just a movie," I'd argue this is how prejudice, sexism, misogyny and outdated gender roles persist. Of course, keeping women dumb and skanky works for those dogly men, so . . .

For other films with Emma Stone, please check out my reviews of:
The Help
Crazy Stupid Love.
Friends With Benefits
Easy A


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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