Recovering from a recent breakup, Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson), a project manager at an architectural firm, gets up the nerve to talk up a mousy, shy-looking woman on the subway, Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman). She rejects Matt's initial advances until a thief tries to run off with her handbag. Playing the hero, Matt runs down the thief and returns the handbag. Suitably impressed, Jenny agrees to a date with Matt. Matt's best friend, Vaughn (Rainn Wilson), the office horndog, suggests Jenny's exactly what Matt needs at the moment. Matt, though, has eyes for his co-worker, Hannah Lewis (Anna Faris), but Hannah's romantically attached to a shallow underwear model, Steve (Mark Consuelos).
Matt's initial date with the slightly off-center Jenny leads to a shaky romantic relationship, but Matt soon discovers Jenny’s secret identity: she's G-Girl, a Superman-like (or is Supergirl-like?) superhero. Jenny can fly, has super strength, is practically invulnerable, and has heat vision and super hearing. Every superhero has to have an arch-nemesis dedicated to bringing her down. Jenny's Lex Luthor-like supervillain, Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard), doesn't have superpowers, just a supergenius intellect and billions of dollars at his disposal.
But Matt begins to have second thoughts about Jenny/G-Girl. She may be irresistible, but physical intimacy leaves the non-superheroic Matt with bumps, bruises, and a broken bed. Worse, Jenny turns out to be, in the words of Vaughan, "needy, jealous, and controlling." Wanting out, Matt tries to ease his way out of the relationship, while keeping an eye out for Hannah. A superhero (newly) scorned, G-Girl decides to punish for his rejection, using her superpowers for ill, not good. Meanwhile, Professor Bedlam puts on his “criminal mastermind” hat and begins to put his superhero-defeating plan in place, but for that he needs help.
While upending superhero conventions, switching traditional male/female roles found in mainstream comics, then combining those conventions with the romantic comedy genre, My Super Ex-Girlfriend turns out to be a better-than-average experience, thanks to the knowing nods to the Superman mythos, from G-Girl’s superpowers and a potential weakness to a power-sapping meteorite. G-Girl may save the world on a regular basis, but she has physical needs too. Where comic book fans (ok, fanboys) have endlessly discussed Superman’s sex life (e.g., whether he can have one, whether he can procreate with a non-Kryptonian, etc.), My Super Ex-Girlfriend answers in the affirmative, humorously at first, repetitiously the second or third time around.
Some comic book fans, though, will find G-Girl uncomfortably close to Superman. They won’t see G-Girl as homage to Superman (or his cousin Supergirl), but as an unimaginative rip-off of their favorite character. They may have a point. TV writer (The Simpsons) turned screenwriter, Don Payne (the upcoming Fantastic Four sequel), made little effort to hide the similarities between G-Girl and Superman, hoping that the combination of two seemingly disparate, ill-fitting genres will dispel that particular line of criticism. It also helps that G-Girl’s costume doesn’t resemble Superman’s, at least not color wise (G-Girl does sport a “G,” but it’s more fashion accessory than anything else, plus G-Girl’s outfits change from scene to scene, as does the “G” symbol).
Where My Super Ex-Girlfriend should be strongest, in the quickly delivered one-off jokes that have been the hallmark of Reitman’s career as a director, it stumbles all too often. Oddly, the timing seems to be off from many comedy-oriented scenes and it doesn’t help that British comedian Eddie Izzard is miscast as the supervillain. Besides looking badly in need of rest, Izzard’s timing doesn’t match the verbal dexterity and speed needed in My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Luke Wilson’s laid-back, laconic delivery is better suited for his role, as is Anna Faris as Matt’s secret love-interest. Wilson and Faris definitely share some chemistry, while Uma Thurman’s character changes don’t quite gel (admittedly she’s playing two roles and one neurotic woman).
On another level, My Super Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t offer a particularly progressive view of women of either the superheroic or non-superheroic kind. G-Girl’s nutty and referred to several times as a “crazy b----“ (not to mention the infantilization that comes with being called “G-Girl” as opposed to “G-Woman” or something more adult sounding), while Hannah is initially presented as superficial, preferring good looks to depth in her romantic attachments. Plus, Matt and Hannah’s overcautious supervisor, Carla (Wanda Sykes), is always on the lookout for sexual harassment, even when there isn’t any.
Still, that all goes by the wayside in the last scene, as two characters are left holding their respective lovers' coats and purses while their better halves rush off to save the day. It also doesn’t hurt that the special effects, minus one fake-looking CGI shark, are also very, very good (G-Girl’s flying and super speed are handled admirably). Ultimately, My Super Ex-Girlfriend’s hit-or-miss humor and unsympathetic, not-particularly-progressive female characters bring it down a few notches, the storyline moves at a fast clip, and enough reversals, complications, and knowing references to the superhero genre are thrown into the mix to make for a lightweight, mid-summer entry.
© Mel Valentin, 21st July, 2006
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