Man haunted by exes. If this doesn’t sound like a terrific concept, go watch Fellini’s 8 1/2, or listen to a Leonard Cohen record. You don’t need me to tell you that would be time better spent than teasing out the meaning of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
For what it is—namely, a lame and awkward rom-com update of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—the movie has the right credentials. Its script is by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who together wrote Four Christmases, and director Mark Waters is the guy who made Just Like Heaven, a lame rom-com in which a young man falls in love with a ghost.
Haunted by your love: Matthew McConaughey tangles with the spirits of his exes while trying to woo Jennifer Garner in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
Here, Matthew McConaughey coasts along as one Connor Mead, a womanizing fashion photographer with a loosely Scroogean attitude toward love and marriage. This guy is such an oil-slick player that he can dump three women at once via video conference call while another looks on, waiting to be conquered. This guy can reply to the suggestion that “spooning is nice,” with “Yeah, but not as nice as forking.” This guy needs to be taught a lesson. And so, on the night before his loyal younger brother Paul (Breckin Meyer) is to be married, Connor gets an admonishing supernatural tour of his ridiculous romantic history. And maybe, just maybe—O.K., certainly—one last chance with the unacknowledged love of his life, Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner).
The Jacob Marley to his Scrooge is Connor’s dear, departed, Robert Evans-ish uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), from whom he learned all the moves, or at least the unsettling perma-tan-and-too-white-teeth combo. Here’s a little context on Wayne, in Connor’s reverential estimation: “You know he invented the word ‘MILF’?”
That’s how he puts it to the ghost of his first conquest (Emma Stone), an awkwardly spazzy teenager with braces and an acid-washed jean jacket, who apparently died not long after they hooked up all those years ago. If only the movie dared to go into details about how she died.
But it’s clear early on, from Jenny’s threat to “cut off your favorite appendage,” that Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, however impressively cynical, has no edge at all. For a movie about a sex-fiend, it’s weirdly, dully chaste. For instance, Connor’s case against marriage and monogamy amounts to this: “Every night I swim in a lake of sex.” But the movie doesn’t want to acknowledge just how disgusting that image is. It comes closer in one scene where Connor gets rained on by a shower of “all the lady tears that have been shed for you,” followed by “all the condoms you used,” but cuts away before actually showing us the latter.
With all of this in mind, allow me to just go ahead and suggest the title Lucas, Moore and Waters should have gone with instead: Suck My Dickens.