Knight at the Movies Archives
Love, love, love - courtesy of a mainstream rom-com and a startlingly creative indie
“Oh l’amour, l’amour” Mary Boland wails memorably as the love addicted Countess throughout the 1939 gay classic The Women and
love’s old sweet – and bitter – song, the favorite subject matter of all the arts and the movies in particular is at the heart of two very
different films opening this weekend.  
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a good example of a slick, standard Hollywood studio produced
romantic comedy that utilizes a clever conceit – a retelling of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – and some expert supporting comedic
performances to help it squeak by while
Sita Sings the Blues, an enchanting animated film that links a classic Indian myth with the
relationship breakup of its maker Nina Paley is breathtaking in its originality and heralds the arrival of a major new talent.

Matthew McConaughey stars in
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past as Connor Mead, a successful photographer who is such a callous,
successful womanizer that he breaks up with three women via a conference call as he’s seducing another in his office without batting
an eye.  Connor heads to his younger brother’s wedding which is being held at the Newport estate of his dearly departed Uncle
Wayne (Michael Douglas who is made up to look like legendary film producer Bob Evans) from whom Connor learned to be such an
unrepentant skirt chaser.  After a series of breathtakingly boorish gaffs Connor is informed by the spirit of Uncle Wayne in the urinal
that ala “Christmas Carol,” he will be visited by the ghosts of three former girlfriends, given an overview of his prodigious sex life
and if lucky, a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the woman (played by Jennifer Garner) that he never really wanted to let slip

Director Mark Waters who has made a series of audience friendly but hardly challenging movies (
The Spiderwick Chronicles, Just Like
, Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) stays safely within the confines of the worked over script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.  
McConaughey smiles his dazzling smile (though he doesn’t remove his shirt nearly enough for my tastes), Garner flashes her
dimples while Robert Forster, Emma Stone, Lacey Chabert, Noureen DeWulf provide laughs and Breckin Meyer, Anne Archer, and
Daniel Sunjata offer heart.  It’s not easy to make a romantic comedy centered on a egocentric guy who’d rather “fork than spoon”
audience friendly (Chris O’Donnell in
The Bachelor had the same problem) but the ghostly trip back through time (including the
expected montage to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”) and the “Christmas Carol” template helps Waters do the trick (a female
hand in the script department would’ve added some perspective as well).  As the film neared its inevitable conclusion my mind
conjured up nice twists on the title and the central conceit – wouldn’t a gay version of this be a hoot?

At the other end of the love spectrum is
Sita Sings the Blues which filmmaker Nina Paley has given the tongue in cheek subtitle
“The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told” and she may be right.  Paley, a cartoonist and sometime animator, takes the story of the
abrupt end of the relationship with her husband and artfully links it to the myth of the Hindu goddess Sita, who was also spurned by
her warrior husband Rama after being kidnapped by an evil king.  Paley envisions Sita as a sort of curvaceous variation on Betty
Boop and gives her the same cupie doll sexiness.  In a series of trippy musical numbers, Paley has Sita sing via the sublime vintage
recordings of 20s torch song vocalist Annette Henshaw (so pervasive and winning is this unique idea that Henshaw is credited as the
“star” of the movie).  

The dazzling musical numbers (“Here We Are,” “Mean To Me,” etc.) have the same trippy animated quality and wry humor that pop
artist Peter Max brought to the Beatles’
Yellow Submarine.  In them Paley vividly brings to life Sita’s remorse over the end of the
relationship with Rama – a dancing moon drags the stars along behind it, winged eyes flap around Sita’s head, etc. – and the
psychedelic colors are as bright and lush as any stoned hippie could wish for (the movie’s a persuasive argument for the continuation
of 2-D animation – this is anti-Pixar).  Sita’s story is narrated by three shadow puppets who gently and playfully argue with one
another over variations in the myth (in itself a clever way for the story to advance itself) and contrasted with Paley’s own sudden
marital breakup.

Startling in its delightful originality,
Sita Sings the Blues, Paley’s feature debut is a cogent example of an artist drawing on her
experience and shaping it into a unique vision.  The movie is about the purest and most creative example of the old axiom “If life
hands you lemons, make lemonade” one is bound to find.  The film makes its Chicago debut at the Gene Siskel Film Center
beginning this Friday, May 1.  Though Paley prefers audiences see it in a theater (where ticket sales will benefit her), in order to
reach the widest audience the movie is also being offered online as a free download.
Love's Bittersweet Song:
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past-Sita Sings the Blues
Expanded Edition of 4-29-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.