Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
Okay, so there might be a slight problem with the wedding cake.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/01/2009
Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Emma Stone, Noureen DeWulf, Camille Guaty

Often, film critics are perceived as coming into a theater having already made up their mind and unwilling to view whatever movie is being shows on its own merits. Seeing so many films a year helps to develop an almost super human sense about the quality of a project after seeing a trailer or a film clip. All of that hard work and any paranormal powers apparently took a powder this week because “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is good.

Yes, you read that right. I’m saying that a Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy is worth your time and your money. Maybe I should have made sure you were sitting down first?

Okay, so here’s the rundown of this one. Using the premise of “A Christmas Carol”, “Ghost of Girlfriends Past” is the story of a successful, cocky womanizer (McConaughey) whose late Uncle (Michael Douglas) tells him he will be visited by three ghosts – all in an effort to show him that a full life includes commitment and love, not just casual sex.

Sure, this could be a cheesefest waiting to happen and considering McConaughey’s run of films over the past half decade, I’m perhaps more surprised than anyone else to discover how smart and fun this turned out to be. Normally, I would credit the good execution of this premise on both the screenwriter(s) and the director … however, since the screenwriters in this case last did “Four Christmases”, I’ll just go ahead and bestow all of my goodwill on director Mark Waters.

Waters has a decent track record going now, what with “Mean Girls”, “Just Like Heaven” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles” all under his belt. While I’m not contending that any of them are instant classics, they’re all solid entries into their genres and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is no exception. It doesn’t run too long (100 minutes), it’s clever, it’s got heart and the characters are all fun to watch.

Speaking of the characters, clearly the bright star amongst the cast is Michael Douglas. He plays the stereotypical playboy extraordinaire with such zeal and charm, channeling all of the life and energy of past greats like the Rat Pack (and the film includes a story or two about that). The central core to a film based on “A Christmas Carol” is seeing the main character both recognize and overcome their flaws. Without Douglas there to show how McConaughey acquired his attitude towards the fairer sex, the film would have fallen on its face.

In regards to McConaughey, as much as I enjoyed this film, I’m not saying he broke any new ground here. His romantic comedy character is on display once again here, the same as in most of the others in said genre. This difference here is Water’s direction, a great supporting cast (highlighted by Breckin Meyer, Robert Forster and Camille Guaty) and the film’s respectful and knowing take on its source material.

If I had to find something to nitpick at (and I just love to do that), it would be the performances of Noureen DeWulf and Jennifer Garner. DeWulf plays McConaughey’s assistant and while it’s more about the script’s stereotypical approach to her, she seemed to be playing the character completely on one level, never sinking or rising above any of the events around her (it also doesn’t help that because she’s the Ghost of Girlfriend Present, I have to compare her to the amazing Carol Kane from “Scrooged” and no one’s going to beat her performance there).

My issue regarding Garner is also largely connected to the script, as the character feels very undeveloped. While it keeps the runtime down, which is great for a romantic comedy (pacing is never an issue here), I also felt like I should have been able to empathize with her more and instead the film truly is all about McConaghey redeeming himself and figuring out what’s important in life (the same thing that every romantic comedy does, but it worked here).

Being released the same weekend as “Wolverine“, the studio is obviously hoping for some clever counter-programming. The weird thing is that after seeing Marvel’s latest comic book flick and comparing it with the enjoyment derived from watching this, I’d tell both men and women that their best value bet this weekend is “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”.

It’s not going to land in the romantic comedy Parthenon but it does everything right and as it should be, leaving me happy to have spent every minute in my seat watching the film. A 4 out of 5, this is one of those chick flicks that guys won’t be angered to watch (and should actually like) so if you’ve got a special someone, McConaughey’s latest is the one for you. Heck, even if you don’t have a cuddlebunny to bring along, I’d still rather see this than any of the other fare hitting the marketplace … and like I mentioned at the top, this is one not to judge on the merits of its trailers. While it may seem like another miss from the clothing-challenged bongo aficionado, it’s nice to see a pleasant surprise from Hollywood and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is exactly that.