Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for sexual content throughout, some language and a drug reference.
Length: 100 minutes
Grade: B+C-B+B+=B+
Budget: Estimated $40-60 million
Box Office: $97 million (55 U.S., 42 Intl.)

Written by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover, Four Christmases)
Directed by: Mark Waters (Spiderwick Chronicles, Just Like Heaven, Mean Girls, Freaky Friday, Head Over Heels, and House of Yes)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Noureen DeWoulf, Emma Stone, Michael Douglas, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, and Anne Archer.

In this reworking of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, a successful photographer and inveterate womanizer is forced to confront his own relationship failures on the eve of his brother’s wedding as he is led through various times by ghost girlfriends.

Entertainment Value: B+
Okay, I know this is going to come as a shock for some of you, but in this movie, Matthew McConaughey plays, get this, an alcoholic womanizer! I know. I know. He’s really showing his range here. Obviously, there’s nothing in either the plot or the casting that’s stunning or surprising. Nevertheless, I was entertained the whole way through, perhaps precisely by the fact that they didn’t try to be unpredictable. They just had fun taking a predictable plot and funnying it up for us.

Superficial Content: C-
Drugs/Alcohol C-, Sex/Nudity C-, Violence B, Language C-
This is one of those PG-13 movies that probably should be R for all the sexual innuendo and alcohol consumption and mild profanity. Nevertheless, I have to admit that this is right in the PG-13 normal range these days. And, in a way, if it helps for a teenage boy to see this and actually get the point, perhaps it’s good. I doubt there’s anything here that any teenager hasn’t seen before many times. Lots of drinking. Lots of scantily clad women, bed scenes, and sex talk. Lots of minor profanity. What can I say? C- says it all. This is glossy semi-porn, like Maxim magazine or FHM.

Significant Content: B+

Life spent in pursuit of hedonistic pleasure it temporarily satisfying, but lonely and disappointing in the long run. Also, people who tend towards hedonism are often people who have been hurt deeply and never want to experience that again. One of the most valuable things in life is to have someone who sees the good in you, even if no one else does. Love means investing yourself and taking a risk. Second chances are a wonderful thing. Marriage is the relational ideal.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
It’s shiny and cute and funny, which means that most normal people will enjoy it. Also, since it’s a date movie, I think a lot of guys will be exposed to it who might benefit from it. In spite of this and the B+, there are three real serious problems here. First, the fun and pretty version of hedonism portrayed here is not the normal experience for hedonists, who often find themselves knocking people up, contracting diseases, or just being lonely a lot of the time. The movie is condemning hedonistic sexual self-indulgence, but it has to sell you on the fun of hedonistic sexual self-indulgence in the beginning to do this. We have to LIKE Connor before we can learn from him, and perhaps we like him a bit too much. Second, although those in dating or serious relationships who would prefer to be like Connor will likely find themselves dragged to the theater to see this, those guys are already either in steady relationships or likely want to be. The real womanizer is far less likely to ever see this movie, and hence I doubt he would be much affected by its release. Third, and most problematic of all, this movie completely ignores the fact that Connor is only ever one half of these relationships. The movie is clearly implying that all these idiotic, misguided women are perfectly fine and normal and all the problems in the relationship world could
be fixed if all the Connors out there just got their acts together. But look, drug dealers still need drug users for there to be a market. And the diagnosis here is far too one-sided to be of use to the women who need to learn the lesson at least as much as the men. It’s the sexually restrictive Jenny who both draws the real love of Connor and also eventually gets him for herself, but I doubt very many women will leave the theater even thinking they need to emulate her as they drive home with their cohabiting boyfriends of four years. Yes, men in our society need to stop worshipping the Connors and trying to be like them, but women in our society need to stop reading Cosmo, watching Sex and the City, and thinking they can find happiness being number 50 in the endless stream of sex partners. All that said, I still give it B+ for Art and Substance.

Discussion Questions:
~If this movie is selling a story about lostness and salvation, what is the cause of the need for repentance and what is the process for salvation? Is this movie selling self-improvement or something else?
`Even though his experiences get Connor to be better, isn’t this merely selling him on the value of long-term self-gratification rather than the value of short-term self-gratification? In the end, has he really learned what love looks like?
~Do you think that men already are like Connor will be impacted by this movie? Do you think that men who want to be like Connor will?
~Who in our society does the Uncle Wayne character represent? Can you name some of the people or outlets that supply his mythology to our culture? Who are some of the people or outlets supplying the sexually empowered woman myth in our culture?
~Connor’s emotional pain is ultimately the source of his embrace of the Pick-up Artist mindset of Uncle Wayne. Do you think that hedonists are all damaged in this way and just trying to avoid being hurt again? Have you ever known someone like this? The movie seems to be saying that such people already are unhappy deep down inside. Is this true in your experience?
~Compare this movie with A Christmas Carol. How are Scrooge and Connor the same and different? How are they perceived by others? Would you imagine there were financial fling participants in Scrooge’s life to match the women in Connor’s life? What about the differences between Marley and Wayne? How does Bob Cratchit compare with his assistant, Melanie?
~Connor is portrayed as a selfish, superficial womanizer taking advantage of otherwise decent, loving women. But are the women who are attracted to him more virtuous than he is? Are they really in love with him or are they merely in love with how he makes them feel when they’re with him? If that’s the case, then aren’t they mutually using each other rather than him using them? ~When women are upset about being dumped by Connor, do they actually hate him or just hate the fact that she can’t have him? How do you think they’d respond if another guy like him came along? How do you think they’d respond if he wanted them back?
~Who is to blame for the relational disasters between Connor and other women? How much of it is Connor? Is he honest about his intentions and his lack of willingness to commit? How much of it is the women? Are they na├»ve? Are they too eager to give him their bodies? How much of it is the society which has made such behavior acceptable, even normative? Would you blame contraceptive manufacturers for dispensing the technology to “liberate” women from enduring relationships? How much responsibility do you attribute to his uncle for teaching him both that this practice is good and also how to be good at it?
~Is being charming a kind of power that entails moral obligations?
~Jenny at one point says that wooing a woman is not for the woman’s benefit. What does she mean, and is she right?
~One theory about men is that they are essentially barbarians until they find the one woman worthy enough in their eyes to get them to reform. Do you think this is true? What does it say about all the other women? What happens if that woman doesn’t demand that he reform?
~Is marriage an institution for the weak or for the strong? Is the desire and ability to remain independent a mark of strength or weakness? How are hedonism and atheism alike, in this sense of being marketed as virtuous alternatives for those who are strong enough to embrace them?
~Uncle Wayne says that the person who cares the least about the relationship has all the power. Is this true? Is it the best truth? Does Connor adequately refute this in his best man speech? Can the idea of weakness, sacrifice, and covenant ever be fully expressed or comprehended without reference to the Gospel?

Overall Grade: B+
Well worth the watch, even if nothing here surprises you. I thought the bed as time-travel vehicle was a cute touch.

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