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Video Reviews

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Comedy, Romance
Cast
Matthew McConaughey as Connor Mead; Jennifer Garner as Jenny Perotti; Michael Douglas as Uncle Wayne; Breckin Meyer as Paul; Emma Stone as Allison Vandermeersh/Ghost of the Past; Noureen DeWulf as Melanie/Ghost of the Present
Director
Mark Waters (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Just Like Heaven, Mean Girls, Freaky Friday)
Distributor
Warner Bros.
In Theaters
May 11, 2009
On Video
September 22, 2009
Reviewer
Paul Asay
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

What if Ebenezer Scrooge had been a lingerie photographer? What if, instead of counting money, he counted notches on his bedpost? What if Tiny Tim was nowhere to be found?

Connor Mead never met a woman he didn't like—and try to bed.

He collects women like a 6-year-old boy collects rocks: He picks them up, pockets them and forgets all about them until he hears them rattle in the washing machine. He woos conquests by the bushel and breaks their hearts in bulk, splitting up with them three at a time via video conference calls.

"I love all women," he tells a few of his used-once, lightly worn acquisitions. "That's the problem here."

Connor wasn't born this way. He was made. Orphaned as a child, he was raised by his Uncle Wayne, a man who makes Hugh Hefner look like a Jonas brother. "I can't teach you algebra or camping, or even ethics," Wayne told him. But, with a Ph.D. in philandering, Wayne was the ultimate tutor in womanizing. He took Connor to his first singles bar when the lad was just about 14. He taught him the cheesiest pickup lines ... and how to treat women like dirt and make them love it.

"The power of the relationship comes from whoever wants it less," he tells Connor.

That nugget became Connor's lifelong motto, and he feels it's served him well. Until, that is, he shows up at his late Uncle Wayne's bachelor mansion for his brother's wedding and runs into his dearly departed guardian. Wayne goes all Jacob Marley on Connor and tells him he'll be haunted by three ghosts who will show him the error of his libidinous ways. It'll be painful, Wayne cautions, but it'll be for your own good.

"The stuff that's not for your own good?" Wayne adds. "It's for my entertainment."

Charles Dickens would be soooo proud.

Positive Elements

Turns out Connor has a secret, one he keeps even from himself: He's in love with Jenny Perotti, a childhood chum who spurned him in junior high (for a jock) and sent him reeling into Uncle Wayne's craven tutelage. He never looked back—it's just not Uncle Wayne's way—but yet he still carries around her old photo.

The ghosts bring this secret to light, of course, as well as some equally important truths. Connor is taught that love is more than a myth, marriage is more than an "archaic and oppressive" ceremony—and that if he wasn't such a jerk, people might actually like him better. Power in a relationship may come from caring less, Connor concludes, but happiness comes from caring more.

Pretty big lessons for such a small cad, don't you think?

Connor's brother Paul is the only one who believes in Connor's inherent decency. "I had the opportunity to be a nice kid," he says. "He didn't." Though Connor betrays Paul's faith in him several times, he comes through in the end. "From this day on, I want to be more like you," he tells Paul. "I want you to be proud of me again."

Spiritual Content

Karma comes up. Uncle Wayne credits the "hand of God" when Connor proves to be a quick study. At one point when Connor exclaims, "I'll be d--ned," Jenny shoots back, "That's probably true."

The ghost of the future takes Connor to a picturesque church where Jenny's getting married to someone else. Connor watches his own funeral ceremony, presided over by a priest. Paul's father-in-law is an ordained minister.

Sexual Content

A description of all the sexual content found in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past would take longer to read than actually watching the movie. So we'll just hit some critical themes:

After middle school, Connor and Jenny are thrown together two more times. The first time, Connor tries to get her to have sex with him the very night they renew their acquaintance. Jenny says she wants to be "wooed." So, they go on several dates and then have sex. (From the shoulders up, the camera shows them in bed.) Connor, we're told, realizes he's in love during their postcoital "bliss." Scared, he leaves before the sun rises.

Connor is a fashion photographer who appears to specialize in lingerie modeling. He takes pictures of many, many scantily clad women, some of whom make passes at him while wearing see-through underwear. At one juncture Connor forcibly strips the clothes off one of his models—a musical starlet, apparently looking for an eye-catching publicity shot—to reveal her underwear. He later winds up making out with this singer.

Connor and Uncle Wayne fire off scads of sexual double entendres and innuendos, ranging from tame-but-insulting to borderline pornographic. When he tells a bartender that that's the way men should talk to women, the man responds, "Does it work on men?"

Connor grabs the breasts of his brother's future mother-in-law and tries to seduce her. "When did casual sex become a crime?" he says. She turns him down, but later quips that she's slept with worse people.

Yes, these are the kind of people who inhabit Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. And we've barely scratched the surface. Three bridesmaids all hope to have sex during the wedding weekend, and all three, we learn, would like to sleep with Connor. Two of them already have. "You must feel terribly left out," Connor tells the third, and then suggests she meet him in his room.

It's an aberration of sorts, but Connor does not end up sleeping with her or her friends. So they turn their attention to other men—some of them, apparently, married. "They're really not married unless they have kids," one quips. A revelation that Paul also once slept with one of the bridesmaids—around the time he and his bride-to-be first met—nearly derails the wedding.

Jenny shares her first kiss with a ninth-grader, and "that means tongue," her breathless junior high friends tell us. Jenny threatens to cut off Connor's "favorite appendage." When the ghost of the past reintroduces Connor to hundreds of women he's had flings with over the years (including someone who apparently underwent a sex change afterward), it's stated that the relationships lasted anywhere from a matter of weeks to 47 seconds.

Violent Content

Connor crashes his Uncle Wayne's old Cadillac and punches Paul's future father-in-law in the face. He trips over a ghost. He wrecks a wedding cake. He's pushed into a grave, where women start shoveling dirt on him.

Crude or Profane Language

One subtitled s-word. God's name is misused nearly 15 times (once with "d--n"). Jesus' name is abused once. Milder profanities include "a--," "b--ch" and "h---."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Perhaps part of Connor's "caddiness" is due to his unhealthy drinking habits—on display throughout much of the film. He makes a cynical speech about the evils of love and marriage while partially drunk, and Jenny says it's all a result of Connor's typical dietary problem: "All scotch, no carbs." After Connor takes a ghostly trip to the past, he immediately ravages the house in a mad quest for alcohol to calm his nerves. He opens the first bottle of booze he sees—champagne that's specifically labeled as being for the wedding toast. He and others down wine, martinis, whiskey (his first when he's 14) and assorted other intoxicating beverages.

Uncle Wayne references a "pile of blow as big as a toaster."

Other Negative Elements

The ghost of Uncle Wayne is urinating when we first meet him.

Conclusion

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is sweet—in a horrible, soul-sapping sort of way.

For folks who've come to believe sex before marriage is normative and healthy, this film does offer a message: Chase after sex to the exclusion of all else, and you'll wind up lonely and alone. Love, not sex, is the real deal.

But for happily married men like me, who love the whole promise ring concept and might think (fleetingly) of doing routine background checks on our daughters' dates, this story has problems.

Sure, Connor falls in love with Jenny—but he realizes it only after they've had sex.

Sure, he promises Jenny at the end of the film that, from now on, he'll be around whenever she wakes up—but he doesn't marry her.

Sure, he learns his promiscuous lifestyle is bankrupt of meaning—but the film seems unconvinced by its own ideas. Connor, we see, is a libido legend, adored by women and admired by men. Awed, a best man of Paul's tells Connor that it's "an honor to be serving with you." Connor's first sexual conquest tells him that being his first makes her feel like Neil Armstrong.

Even Uncle Wayne, the supposed tragic Marley figure in this crass unraveling of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," doesn't come across as particularly repentant: He warns Connor that he doesn't want to end up like him ... even as he oozes through the movie with a greasy charm, reminiscing about the good ol' days.

In Dickens' original tale, Ebenezer Scrooge is overwhelmed with remorse, appalled at how he's wasted his life pursuing cold, hard cash. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past offers no such revelations. Rather, the tone is more along the lines of "Oops! I've had my fun. Guess it's time to grow up now." It reminds me of St. Augustine's youthful prayer: "Lord, give me chastity and continence—but not yet."

At one point, Connor's assistant says that Connor is like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz: "Born without a heart." If we're charitable, perhaps we can say that the great and terrible wizard finally gives Connor his heart in the end.

But the film? It's still looking for one.

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