The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Sometimes, if you read scripts, you enter a weird, “Twilight Zone”-like space where you read purely putrescent screenplays that are being made with big stars and big directors. You stop, look around, and wonder if the world has gone mad. Is it possible, you ask yourself, that all these intelligent, experienced people really wanted to commit themselves to thisr Things were righted on this project, but it’s still a fair question why it got so far.

“The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is a typical Hollywood comedy. It’s about a womanizing cad by the name of Colin Mead. He’s a handsome fashion photographer who has apparently slept with every attractive female in the world. Though he is a bitterly malicious man — even insulting these women to their faces — they still flock to him. Hell, this guy is so “smooth” (though we’re not sure why) that one Britney Spears-type singer undresses him while he’s telling her that he’s using her.

Colin has to get over to Vegas, where his brother Paul is getting married to the stressed-out Sandra. Colin is an unwelcome guest at the rehearsal, since he’s slept with every bridesmaid, and because he’s rather vocal in his anti-love, anti-marriage stance.

The marriage will happen at the house of Colin’s uncle Wayne, who took care of the brothers when their parents died. Wayne taught Colin everything he knew: about how to remain a shallow man with nothing on your mind but getting into a woman’s pants; he gave lessons on how to pick women up, how to trick them into sex, how to use their own emotions against them — the cad’s handbook, more or less, and Colin grew up to be the lonely, oversexed (and wholly Hollywood-created) man he is today.

During the night Colin is visited by a girl he dated (for a few hours) in high school. Ugly, with braces stuffing her mouth, she is the Ghost of Girlfriends Past. She takes Colin back in time to show him his first relationship. It was with Jamie, his neighbor and best friend, who also happens to be at the wedding, and who Colin pitifully gives wistful, hopeful glances to (just in case you really thought he was a bad guy). We find out that the young Colin was a shy, awkward kid who blew his shot with Jamie when he was too embarrassed to kiss her. She ends up making out with some disgusting boy, which breaks Colin’s heart, and when Wayne sees how upset the kid is, he takes him out for some Jack and teaches him the way of the chauvinist. Colin happens to run into Jamie again, when they’re in their twenties, and they rediscover their friendship. Jamie doesn’t give in easily to Colin’s charms and makes him work at the relationship: she doesn’t sleep with him until he has shed the heavy armor of his insecurities and past thinking. Jamie and Colin finally make sweet, sweet movie love, and it looks like things are going to be great, and both are totally in love, and then Colin, scared by his own feelings and the possibility he could get hurt (again, as it was in the past), immediately cheats and ruins the relationship.

Back at the wedding, Colin lets it slip that Paul slept with one of the bridesmaids while he was dating Sandra. He also demolishes the wedding cake and makes a complete ass of himself. In other words, he wrecks his brother’s nuptials. The Ghost of Girlfriends Present, which is somewhat offensively written as a loud, brash, African-American woman, gives Colin a tour of all the women he’s been with recently: a line of beautiful females that literally stretches into infinity. (Right now some guy sitting alone on a Saturday night washing down a Big Mac with a Schlitz beer is thinking, “He sleeps with thousands of hot chicks and somehow he’s the loneliest man in the worldr Where do I sign upr”) Realizing what a horrible person he is, and later seeing that if he breaks up his brother’s marriage that his brother will end up just like him, Colin races back to the house, chases down the bride, and gives an end-of-movie monologue about the joys of love and why he is the way he is (too scared about being hurt) and blah, blah, blah. Sandra and Paul embrace. Jamie overheard him, and of course she tells him she’s been waiting her entire life to hear him say this. They get together, and then a spaceship lands and aliens come out and announce they will give Earth a device that spreads peace and love throughout the world. Okay, I made up that thing about the aliens.

Aside from its effective premise and its catchy title, there’s nothing redeemable about “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” It reads like a teen novice’s first crack at a romantic comedy. The jokes, which crumble in your hands from age, feel like they were lifted from ’50s comedy-club sets. Colin is written like an ersatz Howard Stern, only without the disarming appeal, wit and string of hilarious humor. It’s distressing that the writers couldn’t even get the bad-boy, man-as-sexist-pig humor right. And every time Colin calls a woman a broad, or makes some second-grader’s idea of sexual innuendo, it’s all undercut because we’re not allowed to forget, not even for a second, that Colin is actually a lonesome, forlorn dude looking for love. The writers have Colin spout off a lot about different groups and things that offend him, and more often than not, they completely get their facts wrong. Colin continues to pine for his youthful glory days, when casual sex wasn’t shameful, but how old is this guyr Mid-thirtiesr He was an itch in his daddy’s pants during the sexual revolution. And if he thinks the young have tightened their belts today, he needs to start watching the news a bit more.

This is one of those Hollywood scripts where you’re supposed to believe women are so undiscerning that they’d claw their skin to be with a guy who shows neither charisma or basic intelligence. Its idea is that if you ignore a woman, or talk to her friend instead of her, her vanity will explode so righteously that she’ll sleep with you even if you look like Jerry Stiller’s ugly brother. Colin, and men like him, are supposed to be the ones being scorned, but don’t kid yourself: this script is all about the easy gullibility of women and how simple it is to trick them. Any shy guy out there, who ignored women plenty and went home empty-handed, knows the falsehood of all this: women don’t want to be overlooked, and in my experience I’ve noticed that guys with a rap, guys who can make women laugh, guys who don’t check women out like creeps from afar, do pretty well.

I’m guessing that the William Baldwin section of “Flatliners” inspired this screenplay. The scene where the women who Colin has slept with confront him is lifted straight out of that film. It’s amusing to me that today, as it was then, there’s hell to pay if you sleep around. If you use women, if you sleep with women and don’t call them back, if you promise one thing and don’t deliver, if you’re an emotional tyrant, your dreams will be haunted by your misdeeds! Cue the lightning and thunder. Isn’t it well known that if you live this bachelor lifestyle you’ll be lonely foreverr And don’t you know that anyone who’s single when they’re old is desperate for love and companionship and is miserabler Didn’t you know being alone, on your own, is a freaky proposition equivalent to the Bataan Death Marchr I’m starting to wonder: did reality inspire screenwriters with this line of thinking, or was it the other way aroundr And since writers can’t shake these notions, will it continue to remain “fact”r It would seem that disposable trivialities like “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” don’t leave footprints, but their old-school way of thinking, their pinch-eyed, retread, romantic-comedy worldviews, are insinuating their way into people’s opinions of themselves and the world.

This all does have a happy ending. And I’m not talking about how Colin and Jamie shack up. Disney rightly shot this project down just as it was going to be filmed. I envision it this way: Prior to “Gigli,” everyone wanted Affleck to do projects with them. Ben, who has no sense of material, liked this enough to make it. Disney happily played along, paid him fifteen million dollars, and gave the green light to what they expected to be a hip, cool-take-on-an-old-tale romantic comedy. “Gigli” soon bombed, someone actually read this script, and suddenly “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” was a hideous beast charging the Disney gates. Everyone panicked. After a nail-biting few minutes, as the snorting, scurfy beast neared closer, its fecal redolence clouding the air, they made the ultimate decision: cut it down. Snipers rushed onto the parapet, guns in hand, and shot down the beast just as it was upon their outer walls. The day was saved — almost. Disney then had to coddle Affleck by agreeing to make some basketball drama about a white coach and his black team. Well, I guess some ills are a little less ill than others.

Displaying the magnetism of a corpulent, balding, pushing-fifties man in tight pants, and grooving like someone who’s been locked away for fifty years, “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is a nightmare of convention, bad plotting, reused-from-other-films characters, lackadaisical effort and unfunny jokes. For the reader, it is like being visited by the Ghost of Bad Movies Past. You get to relive all those bad romantic comedies you’ve seen about jerks who find redemption, in slow, agonizing, laugh-free detail. This script, dated September 07, 2003, was written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. The film has now been pushed back into the development phase.

Rating: F
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