My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
Director: Ivan Reitman
Cinema 4 Rating: 5
Shark: great white shark
Appearance: CGI, dialogue
Sleeping with Anna Faris should be heavenly, and -- despite my deep and abiding appreciation for toothy marine creatures -- uninterrupted by the sight of a great white shark flying towards one’s head as one sits up in bed after awakening from what was probably the most emotionally and physically fulfilling night of one’s life. Setting my own personal fixation on Ms. Faris aside, this is exactly what happens to Luke Wilson just over an hour deep into the middling special effects comedy, My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
Wilson sleeps with Faris, his longtime crush, after breaking up with the voluptuous but clearly “off her rocker” super-heroine G-Girl, played almost like a mannequin for the most part by Uma Thurman, who really should remain in the employ of a director like Tarantino who clearly worships her and understands her strengths as well as her weaknesses as an actress. (While she is physically perfect for the role, straight comedy is not her forte.) G-Girl, who lives her day-to-day existence in the guise of Jenny Johnson (a name on which, for personal reasons, I shall refrain from further comment), takes this emotional rejection in the manner one expects in a romantic comedy: badly, and with thoughts of revenge on her now “evil” ex-suitor. Only here, since G-Girl is essentially gifted with the powers of Superman (or Supergirl, for that matter), the revenge on a normal human being can get, ahem, potentially deadly for the party receiving the vengeful abuse. Hence, the dream-shattering shark-tossing.
Waking up at last with his true love, Wilson hears the taunting words, “Oooh, honey!” outside of the bedroom window. Such a confrontation would be difficult in a normal romantic comedy, since the apartment is several stories up, but when he looks out the window, there is G-Girl, floating casually in mid-air, holding a thrashing, teeth-gnashing great white by the tail. With a modicum of effort, she tosses the shark through the bedroom window, where it lands full force onto Wilson’s side of the bed, snapping its deadly jaws at Wilson as he tucks in his feet. Luke bolts through the apartment, with the shark making several leaps in his direction, including one that ends with the shark closing its jaws mere inches from Wilson’s crotch, finding the couch cushion with its teeth instead. Wilson runs to the other bedroom window, and the shark makes one last leap at the terrified everyman, crashing through the glass and falling to the street below. We hear the screech of tires, a woman’s astonished scream, and several crashing noises, but that is the last we will see of the shark in the film. I assume the lovable predator meets its sad demise at the end of that fall, but Ivan Reitman, who had already directed the pinnacle of special-effects comedy, Ghostbusters, over 20 years ago, thankfully never lets us consider the bloody mess remaining, unless one is speaking of this film as a whole.
Faris closes the scene by asking, “Why would G-Girl throw a shark at us?” Wilson answers, “I don’t know,” but the real answer regarding the film is, “Why didn’t Ivan Reitman decide to throw more sharks at them?” In the middle of a big city, several stories up in an apartment building, the last thing anyone expects to see is a giant shark flying through their window. Despite the small show of G-Girl’s incredible powers up to this point, which establishes to a lessened degree that we are living within the fantasy of this film’s world, the shark scene is still such a strong visual non-sequitur, and so absurdly incongruous to the more mundane occurrences to which we have borne witness in the film, that the concept actually seems to work. It is quick, and it is sudden, and it is over before one can really consider its ramifications.
It may seem unfair to throw a director’s past classic work in his face, but we simply cannot ignore such an obvious regressive trend in Reitman’s work, and thus we must make comparisons to Ghostbusters here. In that film, the similar point where the audience has to make a wacky leap of visual faith is in the acceptance of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man as a monstrous Godzilla-like screaming terror that will crush the entire city into rubble beneath his Michelin Man-like puffy feet. Reitman tried to play the same gag again in Ghostbusters II, but the Statue of Liberty was far too, eh, ordinary (and expected) -- to play out as wonderfully silly/scary as the Marshmallow Man scenario. Stay-Puft was a perfect choice, both in bringing horror – even the merely comedic variety – out of cuteness, and also for the fact that it, to this day, still plays as a great “What the fuck?” moment. But where the Reitman, Aykroyd and Ramis had it right in that film was in writing the scene so that it wasn’t purely this odd thing that came out of nowhere, but was actually the next bizarre link in a chain of increasing goofiness throughout the film. The Ghostbusters had, up to that moment, seen numerous things that one did not see everyday, each one larger and more threatening than the next, but when Stay-Puft arrives, Bill Murray still has enough bemused shock left in his character to say, indeed, “There’s something you don’t see everyday.”
The problem in Girlfriend is that the characters, even the normal citizenry, regularly have incredible things happening around them, all because they exist in a world where G-Girl is in constant battle with Professor Bedlam (downplayed well by Eddie Izzard, even if it is a waste of his talents), her spurned teen sweetheart who has grown up into a “don’t call me a super-villain” super-villain. True, there is a difference in the reality of the news reports and what really occurs (example: Wilson’s casual, media-fed reaction to Izzard’s infamy), but this is an angle that is barely explored by Reitman, concentrating instead on the romantic angle. Everyone expects G-Girl to save the day, but when she does display her talents, even the filmmakers seem almost bored with the results. There is no real sense of wonder to her world-saving or to the display of her powers, either in the faces of the characters, or in the way they are displayed onscreen. It’s almost as if the super-heroics were tacked onto a standard sitting romantic comedy script at the last minute, and little consideration was given to how this would play off the rest of the script. In the end, G-Girl is merely just a celebrity, and Wilson's character might as well be banging Paris Hilton to get basically the same reaction from his friends.
Before the shark scene occurs, there is nothing that can approach it in its inspired wackiness. And after? Nothing but the rote machinations of that “standard sitting romantic comedy script.” When I saw the trailer in the theatre, the only item that even made me halfway wish to see the film was the tossing of the shark, and now, seeing it on DVD, I find that I saved myself some decent coin by not following that slight impulse.
Late in the film, Wilson is asked why he has teamed up with the Professor to strip away G-Girl's powers, and the laid-back Wilson thinks for half a second, and replies, "She threw a shark at me!" Though the line is slightly amusing, it mainly serves to point up the flaw in the character's, and thus the writer's, logic. The reason for his revenge should be because the shark-tossing broke up his reverie in bed with the delightful Ms. Faris. Now that's a form of coitus interruptus that could make me kick Superman's ass. I wouldn't even need the Kryptonite...