Two Films About the Transformation of a Cad (2009)

Rated PG-13 Our ratings: V- 2; L- 1; S/N-3 . Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked,
for you reap whatever you sow.
Galatians 6.7

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way 1 Corinthians 13:4

Director Mark Waters is the more interesting of the two cad films, in that his script borrows from Charles Dickens s holiday classic A Christmas Carol. The opening of the film establishes that fashion photographer Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey) is indeed a cad, seducing the model he is currently shooting, while at the same time holding an on-line conference call to tell three gorgeous girl friends that he is breaking up with them. This saves his precious time, he explains. His ambition is to seduce all the eligible women he encounters and then dump then he measures the length of his tawdry relationships in minutes, not days or weeks!

Connor shows up late at the wedding rehearsal of the younger brother he had raised when their parents had died in an auto accident, Paul (Breckin Meyer), only to becloud the rehearsal dinner when he spews forth his opposition to marriage as an obsolete, enslaving relationship. He sinks even lower in the esteem of the others when he manages to destroy the elaborate wedding cake. Even Jenny (Jennifer Garner), his childhood friend, gives up her hope that he can ever change. But in between these two events, and other caddish moments, the ghost of Connor s Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas) shows up to warn him that he will have three more spectral visitors. Uncle Wayne had been a playboy also; indeed, we see in subsequent visits by the ghosts of past girl friends that it was his Uncle who had inculcated in his nephew his values. The now remorseful Uncle Wayne wants to warn Connor of the sad consequences of such behavior. The three ghosts, the first of whom is that of the high school girl who was his first conquest, take him back to his past, present, and his lonely future. They show him much that he has forgotten such as that it was little Jenny who gave him his first camera. The ghost of the future shows him of the forlorn fate that awaits him unless he changes.

This is an enjoyable cautionary tale, but, as indicated in the introduction, a double fantasy. The ghost business is easier to accept than the second, and perhaps less obvious one the exclusively male fantasy that almost all women are so dumb and compliant that they would accept the treatment that a charming cad like Connor dishes out. The time is supposedly in the present, not in the Fifties: it is as if the Feminist Movement never took place. I realize that this is just a little escapist tale, but as for myself, and hopefully the female members of the audience, a little more touch of realism would have been welcome. My advice is to wait until the film comes out on DVD there are some good laughs in it and in the meantime watch the far more perceptive, and also more realistic, comedy drama about a cad that stars Michael Caine in one of his great roles, Alfie.

For Reflection/Discussion 1. How has Uncle Wayne reaped what he sowed?

2. What did you think of Paul s defense of his boorish brother? How has he become a person of grace? Also Jennifer?

3. What do you think of the belief that Connor has inherited from his uncle, The person with the most power in a relationship is the one who cares the least. What do you think he means by power? Compare this to what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.

4. How is Jennifer s repairing the smashed wedding cake like a parable that describes Connor and his life?

17 Again

Rated PG Our ratings: V- 2; L- 1; S/N-2 .

Running time: 1 hour 42 min.

The adult Mike in his 17 year-old body plays basketball with his son Alex..

2009 New Line Cinema

Director Burr Steers and writer Jason Filardi’s fantasy comedy is a very mixed affair, affording several tender and funny moments sandwiched in between some preposterous events that all but the most naive will have trouble swallowing without gagging. Though bearing a slight resemblance to the classic Back to the Future, this tale of a despairing husband/father’s awakening falls far short of the earlier film..

The film opens with high school senior Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron) expected to perform outstandingly in the big basketball game. He has a lot at stake because a scout from a major college is in the stands to watch him. However just as the coach is gathering the players Mike’s girlfriend Scarlett (Allison Miller) informs him that she is breaking up with him. This so stuns the boy that he cannot keep his mind on the play when the game begins. When he sees her walking out of the gym, he leaves the floor, catching up with her and pleading his case. Yielding to his passionate plea, she agrees to his proposal of marriage.

Twenty years later the adult Mike (now played by Matthew Perry) and Scarlett (Leslie Mann) are breaking up. She is fed up with his complaining about what might have been had he gone on to college. Mike moves in with his best friend Ned Freedman (Thomas Lennon), who was once the nerd that Mike had defended against bullies during their high school days. Now the nerd has become a millionaire, thanks to the software he had developed.

Paying an impromptu visit to his school, Mike gazes at the photo of his old basketball team on display. He talks with the janitor, who asks him if he would prefer to live back then. Later that night when Mike tries to stop the mysterious janitor from jumping off a bridge, he somehow is transformed into himself as he was at 17. His attempt to convince the alarmed Ned of his identity is amusing, and his subsequent enrolling at his old high school offers all sorts of unusual opportunities when he becomes the classmate of his teenage daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and slightly younger son Alex (Sterling Knight)—and then there is wife Scarlett, who is amazed at the striking resemblance between the new friend whom Alex brings home and that of her husband during his youth.

As stated before, some of the ensuing events are touching, as well as funny, and some are too unbelievable, the latter centering mainly around friend Ned, who has agreed to serve as Mike’s “father” in order for enrollment in school. That Jane Masterson (Melora Hardin), trained and sophisticated enough to become the school Principal would put up with Ned’s crude wooing of her is too much. Best part of the film is Mike’s growing awareness of the problems of the children he had so long neglected, and even more, of the way in which his self-centered longing for “what might have been” has affected Scarlett. As Luke put it in his parable of the wayward son, Mike “comes to himself” and emerges as a better person.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. How has Mike O’Donnell been living in the past since his high school graduation? How has this affected his relationship with Scarlet? Note their conversation in the backyard when Mike finds her digging it up: how are his various uncompleted projects symptomatic of his brokenness?

2. When the fantasy janitor asks Mike if he would like to live in the past again, what does Mike say? How is this all too often the story of high school sports stars? How is this a Peter Pan-like failing?

3. Which of the many situations seemed real and heart-fel
t, and which seemed contrived?

4. What do you think of Mike’s words to his daughter Maggie? “When you’re young everything feels like the end of the world. But it’s not it’s just the beginning, you might have to meet a few more jerks. but one day you’re gonna meet a boy who treats you the way you deserve to be treated. Like the sun rises and sets with you.” 5. What do you think of the “letter” that Mike reads in court to his about to become ex-wife? “Scarlett, before you go through this, I want to remind you of September 7th, 1988. It was the first time that I saw you. You were reading Less Than Zero, and you were wearing a Guns ‘n’ Roses t-shirt. I’d never seen anything so perfect. I remember thinking that I had to have you or I’d die… then you whispered that you loved me at the homecoming dance, and I felt so peaceful… and safe… because I knew that no matter what happened, from that day on, nothing can ever be that bad… because I had you. And then I, uh… I grew up and I lost my way. And I blamed you for my failures. And I know that you think you have to do this today… but I don’t want you to. But I guess… if I love you, I should let you move on.” What does this show about his new-found maturity? How is real love being willing to let go of the beloved, or as he puts it, “move on.”