[21 July 2006]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Eddie Izzard Eddie Izzard Eddie Izzard. If ever a name bore repeating, it is this one. And thank goodness for Eddie Izzard, who plays the supervillain in My Super Ex-Girlfriend. He brings a whole other dimension to the proceedings, being wily and subversive rather than flamboyant. His status as requisite character is revealed in the scene where he introduces himself to the hero while riding in his limo and snarling about his nefarious plans and utter genius. “I get it,” says Matt (Luke Wilson), rolling his eyes. “You’re the ‘supervillain,’” his lack of respect underlined by his exaggerated finger quotes.
But Izzard’s Professor Bedlam isn’t the supervillain you’d expect in a broad and bawdy hybrid film from Ivan Reitman. Just so, he only appears occasionally, each time a little treat. The rest of the film, written by former Simpsons scribe Don Payne, is energetic and extra-absurd, mixing up comic-book/action movie and romantic comedy conventions to take jabs at traditional gender roles and sexualities.
Matt’s heroism is hardly foregone, though he is against Bedlam by way of a mutual acquaintance, Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman) (As Matt notes, she’s got “the whole alliteration thing going on”; see also: Lois Lane, Vicki Vale.) Matt first meets her on a New York subway, he thinks she’s demure and sweet: she’s wearing glasses, she’s focused on her book, and she has simple-seeming brown hair, sure sign of secret-identity “plainness.” She puts him off, unimpressed by his uninspired come-on line and the fact that his best friend Vaughn (Rainn Wilson, playing a version of the motormouth asshole patented by character namesake Vince Vaughn) is making faces and urging him on from across the crowded train car.
Just then, salvation comes in the form of a purse snatcher from Central Casting. Matt leaps into action, chasing the guy up the subway stairs and into the sunny street, recovering the purse when he drops it, then beating a hasty retreat when the criminal comes back at him with a pipe—oh so threatening. While Matt hides with the purse in a dumpster, he can’t know why or how the bad guy suddenly disappears with a yelp. Emerging from the dumpster, Matt finds Jenny waiting for him, and as they walk off down the alley, the camera cranes up to show the would-be robber hanging from a grate four stories up, where she has thrown him. The image repeats what you already know, having already seen a demonstration of her awesome powers: Jenny’s secret identity is G-Girl, blond superhero and local celebrity.
When she reveals her secret to Matt, he’s initially thrilled. She’s a “hellcat in bed,” on top and literally slamming the bed through the wall (when the bed collapses, she promises to buy him “a new one,” at which point he whimpers, “Do you mean a bed or a penis?”). But hey, she’s got superspeed, breathtaking flexibility, and a sense of humor (promising to punish him for being a “very, very evil boy”). Hey, he’s dating the hottest chick in the game. But it’s not long before he remembers that he’s no Jay-Z. When she takes him flying (where she makes him have sex in mid-air, a little nervous-making), he’s not elated like Lois under Superman’s arm; instead, he says, “I’m feeling emasculated with you carrying me around like a toy poodle.”
To add to his discomfort (and confirm his understanding of how gender works), Matt discovers that Jenny has some longstanding “issues.” As she tells her story in helpful flashback, you see that she’s not only overbearing and neurotic, but a liar to boot (as her narration doesn’t coincide with what you see). She and her best friend, fellow nerd Barry felt like “outcasts” in high school, until they found a glowing meteorite. As Barry looked on, she touched it, started glowing a bit herself, and developed instant superpowers (and breasts). With that, Jenny became instantly “popular” and left poor Barry behind (you can see where this Barry story is going—an object lesson on the risk of cruelty in high school, as it produces supervillains).
Though she’s now blond and beautiful and kicks ass, Jenny-as-G-Girl has remained insecure and needy, and soon—so the movie can get on to its titular plot point—Matt can’t take it anymore. He breaks off the relationship, calling her all the bad-girl adjectives he can think of: “You’re needy, you’re jealous, you’re manipulative.” All true enough. But his next observation—“It’s crazy!”—sends her over the edge. For Jenny, this means throwing tables, slamming holes through his ceiling, trashing his car, and boiling his goldfish (named “Biggie Smalls”). “I am the good guy,” she insists when he protests. “You are the bad guy.” The dumpee is always righteous.
By the time G-Girl throws a gigantic, cornily squirming CGI-ed shark through the window when she finds him in bed with another woman, the film has long since made its choice. Jenny is crazy and Matt is better off without her and with that other woman, the beautiful, sensible, supremely unthreatening Hannah (perennial good sport Anna Faris). My Super Ex-Girlfriend understands the problem here, as it designates the girl as “crazy” and the boy (no matter his juvenile behavior) as the “norm.” It even includes a couple of not-very-funny preemptive jokes about sexual harassment, voiced by Matt’s boss at the design firm, Carla (Wanda Sykes), who accuses him of being a “bottom-watcher” when she catches him looking at Hannah. But Hannah doesn’t mind, being the ideal object and so, only underlining that Jenny’s demands are “unreasonable” and need to be directed elsewhere.
Desperate to find some peace, Matt agrees to a proposal from Professor Bedlam. And hooray for that plot turn, as it brings Izzard back on the scene. The deal they cut is shady and then some, involving deception by Matt (monitoring his progress, Bedlam is impressed: “The man’s not bad,” he smiles, “He might have a future in our business”). Perpetually distracted and supremely arrogant, Bedlam is also low-key, witty, and beset by his own fidgety demons. His best plot trick comes at film’s end. Suffice it to say that Bedlam does not suffer the usual supervillainish finale, and more delightfully, he upends in his very being the gender conventions that Matt tries so hard to maintain. Eddie Izzard Eddie Izzard Eddie Izzard. Say it again.
My Super Ex-Girlfriend - Theatrical Trailer