Are you a little over superhero movies and mutant mania? Are you looking for a smart, sly comedy that might surprise you? Well, conventional wisdom aside, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” may be for you.
Unfortunately saddled with the stigma of “Oh, if Matthew McConaughey is in it, it can’t be good” (or at least that’s the line in Hollywood circles), “Girlfriends” is actually directed by Mark Waters who has a history of making inspired studio comedies. Anyone remember how good “Mean Girls” or “Freaky Friday” were? Now, granted, “Girlfriends” may not be as inventive as those two “new classics” (at least they will be when TNT gets ahold of them), but it’s much more enjoyable than you’d think. Really.
Inspired by Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the film introduces us to Connor Mead (McConaughey), a jet setting celebrity photographer who has mastered the art form of seducing and then breaking women’s hearts. Seemingly thousands of them. Showing up at his younger brother’s wedding (nice to see you working again Breckin Meyer), Connor is reunited with a childhood friend, Jenny (Jennifer Garner) who used to have a special place in his heart. As the audience soon discovers, there was more to this friendship than just hanging at the local playground. Just as Connor’s brash nature begins to negatively affect the wedding weekend, the ghost of the man who raised him and taught him the playboy way, his Uncle Wayne (a pitch perfect Michael Douglas), makes a surprise visit. It seems Connor needs to learn some life lessons and in so doing Uncle Wayne informs him that he’ll be visited by three ghosts that night (past, present and future) who will show him what he’s become and how it might all tragically end up. The ending isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but it’s a funny ride getting there.
Romantic comedies have become a staple of McConaughey movie slate and he usually has fine on screen chemistry with his leading ladies (“Sahara’s” Penelope Cruz aside) and the hard to peg Garner (is she a comedy leading lady or really a supporting player?) is no exception. Speaking about the film last week, Garner credits their witty banter to luck and, of course, hard work.
“We spent a lot of time with Mark and each other going over scenes and trying to make them more organic and just being together,” Garner says. “You start to build an actual, real relationship which was necessary for this because these characters had been the most important people in each other’s lives for a lot of their lives.”
“I had a sense of who I thought you would be,” McConaughey reveals. “We met down there at Shutters and worked on the script that day and we probably said “Hi” but…”
Garner interjects, “I mean we dated those two years…”
[Insert polite laughter from the assembled press.]
On cue, McConaughey adds, “Remember out there at the Four Corners?”
“I do remember, yeah,” Garner replies with a completely straight face.
Well, perhaps they aren’t so good at improv, but both actors definitely have a good sense of humor about what they do and the silly insinuations of playing a romantic couple on the big screen. More importantly though, they really respected each other before, during and after the production wrapped.
“One thing that I really liked was that she doesn’t bring any riff raff, fizzle fazzle, extra B.S. drama from the outside,” McConaughey volunteers. “[She’s] a pro yet still fun and coy and keen and jokey.”
“Girlfriends” is being released as counter programming to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” this weekend, but the reviews so far have been mixed to negative. That’s too bad. It appears critics are projecting their past disappointments with McConaughey on his latest endeavor. Hard as it is to believe, “Girlfriends” may be the smartest, funniest and best romantic comedy he’s ever made. And it’s a lot more entertaining than Hugh Jackman’s latest, that’s for sure.
“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is now playing nationwide.