Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Mark Waters’s romantic comedy “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” starring Jennifer Garner and Matthew McConaughey, should have been scripted by a more sophisticated writer, say, a contemporary Noel Coward, or Tony Gilroy, rather than the team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who had previously penned the equally disappointing if slightly more charming and far more commercial “Four Christmases,” largely due to Reese Witherspoon’s star power.


Instead of bubbling champagne, we get mass-marketed wine, or a third-tier comedy, drawing on Scrooge, which lacks charm, subtlety, and sophistication, presumably made by adults and targeted at adults.   Moreover, it does not help that McConaughey is not particularly convincing or appealing as the womanizing homme who despises marriage, and that there’s no real chemistry between him and his talented leading lady Garner.  (Reportedly, in previous incarnations, Ben Affleck, a better choice, was attached)


Produced as a movie for the young middle-age crowd, the same one that made “Four Christmases” and “He’s Just Not That Into You,” also released by New Line/Warner, the picture opens May 1 as counter-programming to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which officially kicks off the big summer season.  My feeling is that even mature women would opt to see Hugh Jackman, currently labeled “the sexiest man alive” than McConaughey.

Connor Mead (McConaughey), a cool, successful fashion photographer, despises weddings. It's impossible to imagine Connor overcoming his aversion to matrimony to attend anyone's wedding. But this particular wedding is different–it's his brother's.  And for Paulie's sake alone, Connor is willing to take a painful journey from his high-style New York City life to the the less exciting Newport, Rhode Island home of his childhood.  The ceremony is to take place at the lavish estate of their late Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, brilliant).

In this aptly titled film, which could be described as a comedy of discomfort and error, we kind of expect Connor to be out of place during the festivities, even if his sacrifice amounts to one weekend. What is not expected by Connor is a crucial encounter with his former flame Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), the girl who somehow got away.

Connor is meant to be a confident, edgy guy, which McConaughey certainly is, but also charming and funny, which the actor is not, at least not in this picture. A bon vivant, Connor is the perennial bachelor who just wants to have a good time. But he's also a guy who has lost his way and doesn't know it. Playing the “cool” and “noncommitted” macho for years has taken a toll, and he fails to realize that in the end he's bound to have lonely life.  Seeing Jenny offers the first clue that it’s not too late for him to change and reform.

In many ways, Jenny is on the level. Like Connor, she is beautiful, smart and self-assured–except that Connor failed to see her qualities and decided, rather foolishly, to walk out on her.  As the maid of honor at this wedding, she assumes a matter-of-fact aura, determined that nothing and no one, not even a former beau, will mar what promises to be a special occasion.

Having experienced the “Connor Mead” treatment, Jenny shows no patience for him.  Through flashbacks, we learn that they were best friends as kids, and then reconnected and dated as adults, at which point Connor was already on his way to be crowned as a renowned playboy. Connor nearly (but not quite) ruined Jenny’s faith in men. Upon their first encounter, sparks fly between the duo though not necessarily in an amiable way.

Due to their rich history, Jenny knows Connor in a way that no other woman ever will. Despite her disappointment in what he has become, she knows the real Connor is better than that.  As a result, she calls him on his games and tricks, always putting him in his place. Garner endows Jenny with vulnerability and intelligence that conveys, despite sharp words, the sadness she feels for Connor, and how empty his life has become. But she still believes that deep down Connor has an essential sweetness and generosity about him.  Unfortunately, as scripted and acted, there is no rhythm or fun to their sparring and competition, which is sort of a carryover from Connor's and Jenny's childhood together.

The film’s best performance easily belongs to Michael Douglas as Uncle Wayne; Douglas would have played with great panache Connor twenty years ago himself.  An idol during Connor's formative years, Wayne still looks sharp if a bit outdated. But as interpreted by Douglas, he still epitomizes the fast-living playboy of a certain swinging era, complete with velvet jacket and artfully tied ascot at his open collar, not to mention the indoor shades and the requisite scotch and cigar.

It’s a pleasure to watch Douglas, one of the most accomplished but also modest and underestimated actors working today.  He strikes the perfect note, giving the old scoundrel a sexy swagger and charm, which indicate that he could get away with doing or saying anything. A sentimental throwback, Wayne is the eternally cool player, but Douglas makes him more likeable than the character must have been on page. Wayne has been dead for five years, but he crashes Paulie's wedding at his old bachelor pad in spirit form, carrying an important message for his nephew, which boils down to one brief sentence: “Don't waste your life the way I did.”

An admirable role model, Uncle Wayne taught Connor everything he ever learned about relationships–essentially, not to care for any woman, to just have a good time and move on. It was the way Wayne conducted his own life, but at the time, it was also meant to protect Connor from getting hurt. 


Seeing Wayne now, you get the sense that he didn't really want to end up that way. Having realized the mistakes he made in his life, he’s trying to save Connor from repeating them. As a result, he's trying to channel some retroactive parenting with this last-ditch effort to point him in a better direction. But he's going to need some powerful help, and he's smart enough to enlist that help in a form to which Connor is most likely to pay attention: a desirable female.  Would Connor listen to his Uncle?


Technically speaking, by standards of Waters’ previous films (“Mean Girls”), “Ghosts of Girlfriends

Past,” lacks polish and style, which could be a function of the budget size and restrictions placed on the production and pot-production.  Too bad, the central idea is certainly workable.




Connor Mead – Matthew McConaughey
Jenny Perotti – Jennifer Garner
Uncle Wayne – Michael Douglas
Paul – Breckin Meyer
Sandra – Lacey Chabert
Sergeant Volkom – Robert Forster
Vondra Volkom – Anne Archer
Allison Vandermeersh – Emma Stone
Melanie – Noureen DeWulf
Brad – Daniel Sunjata
Deena the Bridesmaid – Rachel Boston
Donna the Bridesmaid – Camille Guaty
Denice the Bridesmaid – Amanda Walsh
Nadja – Emily Foxler
Charlece – Catherine Haena Kim
Kiki – Noa Tishby
Teenage Connor – Logan Miller
Teenage Jenny – Christa B. Miller
Ghost of Girlfriends Future – Olga Maliouk


A Warner Bros. release of a New Line cinema presentation of a Jon Shestack/Panther production.

Produced by Shestack, Brad Epstein.

Executive producers, Toby Emmerich, Cale Boyter, Samuel J. Brown, Mark Waters, Jessica Tuckinsky, Marcus Viscidi.

Co-producer, Ginny Brewer.

Directed by Mark Waters.

Screenplay, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.
Camera, Daryn Okada.

Editor, Bruce Green.

Music, Rolfe Kent.

Production designer, Cary White; art director, Maria Baker; set designers, Cosmas A. Demetriou,

Cat Smith; set decorator, Barbara Haberecht.

Costume designer, Denise Wingate.

Sound, Danny Michael; supervising sound editor, Mark Mangini; re-recording mixers, Terry Porter, Dean A. Zupancic.


MPAA Rating: PG-13.

Running time: 98 Minutes.