Friday, 26 March 2010

My Last Five Girlfriends: The Truth

The truth is that had this been French (think Julie Delpy perhaps or the late Eric Rohmer) critics wouldn't have had a problem with it. They probably wouldn't have bothered to go in the first place, but those few with a modicum of intellectual curiosity who did venture out would have found this a charming meditation on the vagaries of l'amour. But it is a British movie and therefore altogether much more ambitious (how many British movies can you name that are investigations of an abstract noun?). It is not a comedy, it is not a drama, it is not even a piece of social observation. It is, in other words, rather foreign to English sensibilities. We must pity the critics. They understand Hollywood, they understand British social comedy, they assume that films in a foreign language are beyond the public they so often condescend to, but they don't get My Last Five Girlfriends.

Of course, it should have retained the title of the book it is adapted from, Alain de Botton's 'Essays in Love' ('essays' as in 'experiments'). That would have signalled the abstract, meditative nature of the piece. The marketing has served the film very poorly: this is an art house independent, a movie for grown-ups. Couples are not going to roll out of the cinemas wiping the tears from their eyes or pledging undying love to one another, or reminding each other of "that great bit where".

This is a low budget film which has attempted high budget effects, but the result is curiously refreshing. Artifice is to the fore - it underlines the refusal to deal in the usual cliches. All sorts of different film techniques are used and these serve to suggest all the very different ways in which the narrative of a love affair can be told or understood. The central character is not particularly charming or attractive; perhaps he is occasionally wry, but we are not invited to empathise.

This is an anti-sentimental film from which you depart thinking rather than swooning.

Brilliant dog-handling.


  1. At last! Someone who gets it! I know I am bias, I was in it but some of the reviews have been exercises in cruelty and it seems that by receiving the blessing of the Paramount stamp of approval it has exposed it to an audience unsuited to the demands of the film itself.

    Other indie releases of the last few weeks have been on at around 11 or 15 cinemas across the UK, this film was on at 102.

    I actually think that never mind French, if the film should see light of day in the US, it's Britishness in the form of its intelligence will be a crucial selling point and will do very well, not the bear-bit of 'eat its young' UK critics.

    Fine blog.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Articulates well the context of the film's reception by the critics.
    I think that the response from Jonathan Ross, for example, is a significant inverted compliment. I would look at my work again with some concern for what might be wrong with it if commentators such as he were giving it rave reviews.

  3. No need, I think, for ad hominem attacks Lawrence. Jonathan Ross is no dummy and he is entitled to his opinion. His opinion is fairly orthodox, and MLFG is an unorthodox film. If I am quite honest I think that the film does fail, but it is a failure of ambition rather than a failure of technique. Such failure is always preferable to glib success. Indeed it might be argued that, like exceptional beauty, all very good work is flawed in this specific way. "A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what is heaven for?" as Robert Browning put it.

  4. Lawrence O'Connor14 April 2010 at 22:15

    Ross is definitely no dummy to have achieved as much fame and remuneration for his orthodox product as he has. My feeling is that his (quite frankly rude, crude & disproportionately vicious) review testifies to the film's unorthodoxy ergo a positive indicator.
    (I am kind of making an association between 'orthodoxy' and 'lowest-common-denominator-mediocrity' (yes, aware of the oxymoron here) for this term, in this context).
    As for ad hominem attacks: It is Ross's work that is at question in this instance not the person- as I would not be qualified to comment having little knowledge of the man as an individual.
    Keep posting the great articles!