In the nearly-perfect film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity, the hero gets over a new break-up by comparing it unfavorably to his “top five break-ups,” which he takes us on a tour of. In that film, it’s an effective device for setting up the character and his hang-ups. In Julian Kemp’s My Last Five Girlfriends (which tries so hard to be Hornby-esque, it’s almost embarrassing), that’s the whole movie. Which is not to say that it’s doesn’t have its own charms—it does. You just wish it would get out of its own way after a while.
Duncan (Brendan Patricks, who begins the film looking like something of a British Matthew Lillard) begins the film in a bad way—he’s writing a suicide note and blaming all of his emotional woes on, you guessed it, his last five girlfriends. We then flash back for a full tour of his relationship woes.
As a premise, it’s not a bad one to hang your hat on. The trouble is, Kemp is trying too damn hard to be clever. They’re constantly stopping the movie with these asides and bits and devices and little jokes to break things up. Some, especially those towards the beginning, are genuinely funny (like a detailed analysis of exactly what the odds are of Duncan and the first of the five meeting on an airplane); others (like the film’s extended motif of a visit to “Duncan World,” an amusement park of his neurosis) are, to put it politely, a stretch.
And that is not to say that it is without some pleasures. In general, it’s a bright, candy-colored pop confection, and all of the performers are good-looking and charming and funny in that lovely British way of theirs. There are good throwaway lines (“Why did she find Patch Adams so funny?”) and inventive bits (I liked the scene where he chats with a potential lady love’s stuffed elephant).
But it’s often too self-consciously cute for its own good, and that hurts the narrative; it’s so fast-paced and in such a hurry to dazzle us with all of its little tricks, we don’t actually find out much about Duncan or these women or their relationships. They just provide a construct for all of Kemp’s little skits.
The sole exception is Gemma (played by the charismatic Naomie Harris), the final of the five. Her character is actually well-developed and has some meat for her to play, and there is some very good material in their section—most of which is played straight, without all the artifice. It gives you an idea of what the film could have been, if Kemp trusted his characters and his material.
But at least that comes towards the end, so the stronger third act (and the satisfying if predictable ending) may give the film a stronger overall impression than it deserves. There are some laughs and insights in it, and it has some smart performances, and some people may even like all the gimmicks. It’s fun, I guess, as long as you don’t think about it too much.