When I first saw the trailer for “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”, starring Uma Thurman and Luke Wilson, I was pretty sure the film would be a stinker. Yet another example of the preview revealing any and all good jokes.
But I went anyway, purchasing my bargain matinee ticket. Why? For you, devoted reader. For you.
I was surprised to find a fairly large crowd in the theater.
I was more surprised to find myself laughing.
Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman), assistant curator at an art gallery, is also superhero G-Girl. Rushing off to put out a fire, or to stop a jewelry store robbery, she tries to lead a normal life through her alter ego. One day, she meets Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson), an architect who is taking the break-up with his ex-girlfriend badly. Vaughn (Rainn Wilson, TV’s “The Office”) urges him to get back into the game and introduce himself to a pretty woman they spot on the subway. Initially, Jenny isn’t interested, but she soon relents. Although Matt enjoys the intensity of the relationship, Jenny soon proves to be a bit of a psycho and he breaks it off with her because he finds himself attracted to Hanna (Anna Faris, “Scary Movie”, “Just Friends”), a co-worker in his office. As soon as Jenny gets wind of the new relationship, she begins to make things very difficult leading Matt to seek help from G-Girl’s nemesis, Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard).
“My Super Ex-Girlfriend”, directed by Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”, “Dave”) is a very funny film. It is difficult to make a good comedy, as anyone who has made the mistake of watching “You, Me and Dupree” can testify. It is even more difficult to make a great comedy. “Wedding Crashers”, good. “40 Year Old Virgin”, great. Good comedies make you laugh for a while and then fall victim to the story; they have to resolve the story they have set-up, so the laughs falter a bit. Great comedies make you laugh for a long time, consistently throughout the film. “Ex-Girlfriend” is really funny for about an hour and then the story kicks in and the laughs become more infrequent.
A lot of the humor in “Ex-Girlfriend” is derived from the relationship between Jenny/ G-Girl and Matt. On the one hand, Matt is a little turned on by Jenny’s forceful nature. He is even more turned on when she reveals she is the super hero. But because we spend a lot of time with Matt and his co-worker Vaughn, as they discuss dating, women and other aspects of being single, these moments take on a more heightened aspect. Vaughn is a pig and has very primitive views on dating, providing a nice counterpoint to Matt’s more acceptable character. Yet, Matt is still a guy, so he listens to Vaughn and becomes excited when Jenny takes control of the situation.
There is a truly hilarious scene during the second date between the two. But to describe it would ruin the impact. I won’t do that.
Then, as the relationship turns sour, much of the laughs are derived from the normal situations which arise from any failed relationship. The girlfriend is too clingy, reading more into every gesture. The boyfriend likes certain aspects of the relationship, but doesn’t really love her. Now, imagine the ex-girlfriend is a super hero who can bend butcher’s knives, throw killer sharks through apartment windows and throw your car into orbit and you begin to get an idea of the unusual nature of their relationship.
During one of their dates, Jenny explains the origins of G-Girl to Matt. During high school, she and her best friend, Barry, the two nerds in the school, are out on a first date, after being friends for years, when a meteor hit. Jenny reaches out to touch it just as it explodes sending powers throughout Jenny’s body. Changing her, the powers also make her braces disappear and her breasts get bigger, making her suddenly very popular in school, leaving her best friend, Barry, to while away the rest of his years alone. As an adult, Barry (Eddie Izzard), takes on the super villain mantra of Professor Bedlam and becomes obsessed with taking G-Girl’s powers.
There are a lot of nice touches throughout “Ex-Girlfriend”. Uma Thurman is very funny dealing with the pressures of being a superhero as she tries to maintain her relationship with Matt. I think it would be difficult for anyone to unexpectedly leave a date to have to deal with a major crisis. In one scene, Jenny doesn’t want to leave Matt alone with Hannah even as a runaway missile bears down on New York City. Matt gives her a few nudges, trying to get her to transform into G-Girl and save the city. Finally, she reluctantly agrees, sulking off to become G-Girl and save the city. When she becomes the jilted ex, her anger provides a lot of amusing situations.
Luke Wilson is also very good as nice guy Matt. Yet, because he is a guy, he isn’t beyond thinking about Jenny in a typical guy fashion; he is turned on when she takes charge in bed, he likes that his girlfriend is a super hero.
Rainn Wilson is very funny as the co-worker who always disgusts any woman he comes in contact with. There are many funny bits showing him trying to pick up other women. One bartender tells him repeatedly “Don’t ever talk to me again.”
As Professor Bedlam, Eddie Izzard is also very amusing. He brings a very understated quality to the performance. Naturally, a bad guy is going to have a diabolical plan, but the plan is rooted in very human feelings; he doesn’t want to blow up the world, he merely wants to get even with the girl who jilted him in high school.
Throughout, there are little visual touches which add a lot to the humor. When Bedlam first abducts Matt, his bodyguard constantly slaps Matt in the face, provoking irritation more than anything. When Bedlam reveals the secret of his plan, the item is stored in a refrigerator in his study, sitting next to a ham; a take out menu affixed to the front with a magnet proudly proclaims a lunch special for $4.25.
A lot of the humor is also based on sex and relationships. Because this was unexpected, it provides another level top the film, taking it beyond the normal pre-fab studio comedy. Matt and Vaughn talk about sex and relationships, causing us to laugh at Vaughn’s warped views and Matt’s eagerness to listen. As Jenny and Matt begin their relationship, we laugh at their reactions to one another. When Matt breaks-up with her, his attempts to start a new relationship with Hannah while realizing she might be in danger, and need protection, provide yet another level of humor. All of this is funny because it is based in reality. Yes, the events are exaggerated, but we have all experienced something similar. The fact that one of the characters is a superhero adds a nice wrinkle to the mix.
But the film slows down a bit as the story mechanics start to take hold. After the initial delight with all of the unusual characters and their relationships, the jokes slow down as the writer begins to walks the various people through the story, to get to the inevitable climax. This is fairly predictable; most comedies run into this problem, so it isn’t a major drawback. As this happens, there are some amusing jokes and laughs, but they just aren’t as consistent. It is hard not to notice such a thing when you have been laughing consistently for an hour and all of a sudden, you’re watching a story develop. Great comedies maintain the laughter throughout.
“My Super Ex-Girlfriend” was a surprise. It is the rare comedy which doesn’t show everything in the trailers, providing a lot of laughs, a unique idea and interesting execution.
I was surprised. Very surprised.