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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

"Super Ex" a power drain

Uma Thurman gamely sends up her tough-girl, kick-ass, Kill Bill persona in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, but the nearly clever idea that powers the screenplay sputters into brownout mode early on, developing rolling blackouts and cutting off vital blood supply to brain cells.
Umasuperexgf.jpg As the brown-bewigged Jenny, Thurman adopts a mousy librarian demeanor (even though Jenny, inexplicably, works at a high-end art gallery). As Jenny’s blonde alter-ego, the Fantastic-Fourish superhero “G-Girl,” the character is tricked out like Superman with laser vision and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound (and an allergy to extraterrestrial rocks).
But Jenny reveals her bipolar secret early on to new boyfriend Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson), thus sidelining the movie’s one running joke — the powerful woman who is secretly insecure, a jealous bunny-boiler in the making. As Glenn Close would say in Fatal Attraction, which this movie vaguely references, she WON’T be IGNORED.
With the full subtext now on display, like underwear worn over street clothes, the story has nowhere to go, no ideas to push, no opportunity for playing peekaboo with G-Girl’s embarrassing, relationship-killing secret: She can save Metropolis from ruin but she’s jealous and possessive.
What to do? Some filler with sidekick characters, and a few Jokes that repeat like the reprise of title songs in a musical — here’s a scene of sex so super the bed moves, and here’s a scene of buddies discussing sex so super the bed moves, and here’s, yes, more bed-moving. At least Brigadoon only showed up once every hundred years.
Luke Wilson’s reaction shots are fun, but you can’t hang a movie on them. (If it were Owen Wilson, maybe.)
Thurman is clearly more comfortable with comedy than any other acting style, and she’s good at it. Her Quentin Tarantino roles have all been essentially comedic. Super Ex-Girlfriend, though more obviously billed as a comedy, is a bad one, a lazy and half-baked one, and it’s a step down for her. She’s not even the lead — Wilson’s reaction shots play the lead. G-Girl’s super powers are indicated by cheesy special effects, the kind that would be impressive on small-screen Smallville; she she goes into action, there’s a watery ripple effect as if G-Girl is disturbing the cosmos just a little. Her powers seem to reside in placing a watermark on the screen; could G-Girl be the first heroine for the paper-supplies industry?
Screenwriter Don Payne (who is writing next year’s Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer) is clearly more interested in the superficial aspects of the high-concept, comics-based joke than in mining the rich, deep vein of Jenny/G-Girl’s personality conundrum. Comics are not superficial, though. The best of them explore the painfully human — how to fit in when you’re different, how to turn your back on those you love to protect them from retribution by your enemies — and movie comedy should demand no less. We should laugh at but also feel for the plight of poor Jenny — so competent. So helpless.
superexgf.jpgThat’s not to say there are no good scenes, like one in which Jenny and Matt have dinner out with Matt’s work colleague Hannah (Anna Faris). A missile is headed for midtown, and the other diners are glued to the TV, but jealous Jenny doesn’t want to leave Matt alone with an attractive woman. “Shouldn’t SOMEONE do something?” Matt hisses to Jenny. “Maybe SOMEONE needs just ONE NIGHT OFF!” she hisses back, like any couple bickering over who did what in the relationship.
I wouldn’t go on at length about a movie like this except that the missed opportunity is profound. Fatal Attraction is in desperate need of a feminist makeover, but I’d rather see a serious one than a comic send-up (it is its own send-up, really). And superhero comics are all about the strain of keeping subtext in place, the exhaustion of keeping the secret life and the public life in balance. The chief mistake of Super Ex-Girlfriend is that Jenny/G-Girl should be the protagonist, not the less-interesting Matt, whose goal is to get a hot chick who won’t turn out to be high-maintenance. That’s too common a movie topic, and it’s been addressed countless times.
No, what this needed to be was a hip, breezy summer spin on The Upside of Anger, that movie in which Kevin Costner is strangely attracted to Joan Allen even though she’s a raving bitch. As a woman, I want to see such a movie in all its variations. And I want to see Uma Thurman (or any actress!) play a smart, strong, funny woman, not the male-fantasy version of it.

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3 Responses to “"Super Ex" a power drain”

  1. Jim Salicrup says:

    Drat. I was hoping this movie would be surprisingly good. Unfortunately, not everyone shares your insights regarding comicbooks, and some less enlightened critics may blame the film’s shortcomings on its “source material.” This doesn’t bode well for the nest Fantastic Four movie. Oh, well.

  2. A hot day in the city, so I took my 15-year-old to the Plex for its air conditioning. I loved My Super Ex-girlfriend, although my son had the more sensible negative reaction. Uma Thurman is rejected by an ordinary man. I found that unbelievable and hilarious. Thurman’s character found it unbelievable and annoying; her annoyance added to my mirth. My son, going into grade 11 at Stuyvesant, sat stoney-faced.

  3. Cadavra says:

    Saw it this afternoon and was mightily impressed. Unlike most comedies today, it had an actual plot and character development. Yes, there are ways it could’ve been improved, but that’s true of most movies. Overall, I enjoyed it and think you’ve underrated it. (And for the record, I once dated a woman who makes Uma Thurman look like a boy–and she was even crazier than G-Girl. Breaking up with her without suffering major physical injury was one of the trickiest things I ever pulled off. No woman, no matter how hot she is, is worth that kind of insanity.)

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon