My Last Five Girlfriends

My Last Five Girlfriends


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

For years, the cinematic dissection of relationships was very much the province of women. But this year, it seems to be all the rage for men to grapple with the ghosts of girlfriends past.

The film which bears that name is on release now, while, back at Sundance Marc Webb’s 500 Days Of Summer took us on a seesaw ride through a relationship timeline from the perspective of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s greetings card writer protagonist. Meanwhile, Julian Kemp’s My Last Five Girlfriends puts a uniquely British spin on the vagaries of love, from the perspective of a bloke.

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The bloke in question is Duncan (can there be a more British name?), who, when we meet him is furiously penning a suicide note to his exes – in one of the many nice little sight gags that run throughout the film, he is forced to use a large, very girly, feather-adorned pink pen to do this. As he crams his mouth full of pills and washes them down with booze, we join him on a canter through his back catalogue of romance.

Based loosely on Alain De Botton’s Essays On Love, this is far cry from the dry philosophical ride that may suggest. Instead, it is a fever dream of memories, which are given structure by an amusement park in Duncan’s head. If that sounds somewhat contrived, it is, but since our boy has just hit the bottle it is forgiveable, and by marrying each relationship up with a different ride – think merry-go-rounds, rollercoasters and the tower of terror – the conceit gives Kemp’s film a solid backbone to support his wilder flights of fancy. And there is always a sense that Kemp is serving his story rather than himself.

Unlike 500 Days, which occasionally lacked discipline, here Kemp makes a virtue of his ‘going for a ride’ framework, so that the viewer has a short-hand indication of where each of the five segments into which the film is split will take them.

There is editorial risk here. As Kemp himself pointed out when the film premiered at Tribeca “there are an awful lot of scenes, around 280 - normally, you're supposed to have about 70”. By and large, however, he makes a virtue of his choppy cuts and fantasy segments, although the film does take a little while to settle into a rhythm and one or two of the earlier girlfriends feel less fleshed out than others. It’s just a shame that some of the better ideas here are let down slightly by the constraints of the budget – perhaps if the film is picked up for distribution a little more post-production work may be possible.

Relative newcomer Brendan Patricks acquits himself well in a role that means he’s onscreen for virtually the entire runtime - an achievement made all the more impressive when you learn that the film was shot over a period of 18 months - and, with his winning looks and cheeky grin it’s safe to say we’re likely to be seeing a lot more of him.

The trouble is that, rather like 500 Days, the skewed ‘all male’ perspective – coupled with every imaginable piece of technique - makes it hard to engage with the women in Duncan’s life quite as well as we would like, although Naomi Harris leaves an impression as ‘the one’. That said, this is laugh-out loud funny in places – a segment providing a guide to sulking and one in which a stuffed elephant offers advice are particularly laudable – and has a ‘charm’ factor to win over waverers.

Reviewed on: 13 May 2009
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A suicidal man considers the five women he has loved and lost.
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Director: Julian Kemp

Writer: Alain de Botton, Julian Kemp

Starring: Brendan Patricks, Naomie Harris, Kelly Adams, Cécile Cassel, Jane March, Edith Bukovics, Michael Sheen, Mark Benton, Chris Gascoyne, Johnny Ball

Year: 2008

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Tribeca 2009
EIFF 2009

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