Two weeks after jowly Matthew Perry transformed into pretty Zac Efron to relive his adolescence in 17 Again, Warner Bros. releases Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, another backward and backward-looking child-is-father-to-the-man rom-com, with Matthew McConaughey, who, 18 years Efron’s senior and slightly butcher, has just a few more years of prettiness left. With its relentless Mars-Venus split between the sexes, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past might also remind you of Warner Bros.’ miserable, borderline-misogynist Valentine’s Day offering, He’s Just Not That Into You. Above all, it will make you long for a day when studio movies about relationships feel like they are by and for adults who have actually been in one.
McConaughey plays NYC celebrity photographer Connor Mead, a rutting horndog who tries to convince his kid brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer), about to tie the knot in Newport, that marriage is an oppressive institution. “Every night, I swim in a lake of sex,” big bro boasts, unintentionally conjuring up a stomach-churning image of bodily fluids four fathoms deep. One of the bridesmaids is Jenny (Jennifer Garner), a childhood friend of the roué with a maddening tendency to psychologize Connor: “I won’t tell anyone you have feelings,” she defensively notes. The man-whore will be redeemed, of course, guided by the apparitions of his Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, dressed up like Robert Evans), who home-schooled him in piggy behavior, and his first conquest, the acid-wash-clad Allison (Emma Stone).
Mark Waters, who directed the excellent Lindsay Lohan vehicles Freaky Friday and Mean Girls (the LiLo-ish Stone only reminds you of those much better movies), helms Ghosts of Girlfriends Past like a wedding video shot by a drunk cousin. His task isn’t made any easier with the risible script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (who also wrote Four Christmases), which is full of nuggets like “Pain eats regret every day of the week and twice on Sunday.” The cast fares no better: The absolute null that is McConaughey seems to be channeling Jim Morrison’s Lizard King persona (the real stud here is father-of-the-bride Robert Forster, a sexy sexagenarian confident enough to forgo hair plugs). Garner just looks embarrassed in her scenes with the leading man, hoping, perhaps, that she can disappear into her own dimples.
A film exhaustingly devoted to extolling the virtues of men and women settling down, and the concomitant pleasures of snuggling (“Spooning isn’t as nice as forking,” the pre-emotionally rehabbed Connor asserts, one of the many weird sex-as-puncture metaphors that also includes referring to Uncle Wayne’s love-mobile as the “Stabbin’ Wagon”), Ghosts of Girlfriends Past still finds it necessary to indulge in a little Smear the Queer. “Tell me this guy’s gay,” Connor says of the gentlemanly doctor who starts chatting up Jenny at the rehearsal dinner. “You look like a gay pirate,” Jenny snorts to a Jesus-haired Connor, then working for Herb Ritts, during a time-travel scene to the ’90s. When Connor thinks his assistant has refused to ball him because she’s a lesbian, she corrects him: “That was just one time in college. I went to Barnard. I had no choice.” One of Connor’s former bedmates appears to have been so traumatized by his rakish behavior that she’s transitioned from F to M.
With the presence of both Douglas and Anne Archer, as the bride’s mom, the specter of an equally retrograde movie haunts Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Playing a middle-class couple in Adrian Lyne’s odious 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction, Douglas and Archer reassured us of the sanctity of bourgeois family life, vanquishing home-wrecking crazy single lady/career woman Glenn Close. Though the films operate in two very different genres, their message is very much the same: Being unattached is a pathology, one that can be cured by bathtub murder or slow-dancing to REO Speedwagon. Start cuddling, guys and gals—or else.