is one of the most successful comedy filmmakers of all time. His numerous directorial
credits include "Ghostbusters," "Stripes," "Meatballs" and "Ghostbusters 2." In
addition, he produced or executive produced hits such as "Old School," "Road Trip,"
"Private Parts" and "Animal House." For his latest film, Reitman was looking for
a fresh take on the genre. "It wasn’t easy," Reitman says. "We’ve seen lots of
comedies with a romantic element, and most seem to play out in a strict template:
Boy meets girl; loses girl for a while; then he gets her back."
Reitman found the kind of novel idea he was searching for in an original screenplay
by Don Payne, a longtime writer/co-executive producer on the "The Simpsons." Payne’s
script, called MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND, changed up the classic comedy template:
the "boy" falls for a "girl" whom he discovers is a superhero. Taking the idea
even further, Payne made his super-heroine neurotic, needy and clingy – the nightmare
trifecta of romance. "Even though the female lead character is a superhero, Don’s
script wasn’t a comic-book story," says Reitman. "This is not a superhero film.
It’s a comedy grounded in reality. Even if you don’t like comics or superhero
films, there’s a lot for you in MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND. Don’s dialogue was naturalistic,
contemporary, sharp – and funny."
Payne’s love for comedy – evidenced in his work on perhaps the greatest comedy
series of all time, "The Simpsons" – is coupled with what he calls his "pure nerdom."
"I grew up reading a lot of comics, and I love comics to this day, much to my
wife’s chagrin," Payne says. "It’s a nerd fantasy to have a superhero for a girlfriend,
and I thought it’d be a fun idea to have a regular guy dating a superhero to disastrous
results." Payne notes that the notion of a super-enabled woman dating a regular
guy had been explored previously; the television sitcoms "Bewitched" and "I Dream
of Jeannie" are two notable examples. But Payne adds a new twist to the idea.
"I wondered what if the relationship between a superhero and a regular guy ended
badly? What if he begins to realize that she’s kind of nuts? "That’s not going
to be the kind of crazy ex-girlfriend you want," Payne says, in a super-sized
Payne’s superhero is Jenny Johnson, a seemingly typical, contemporary New Yorker
who works in an art gallery. Jenny, like most single people, wants a special person
in her life. But she’s continually frustrated in her efforts to find "Mr. Right"
due to her other "job"… as the superhero G-Girl. "Jenny’s save-the-day feats become
old for her," says Reitman. "She doesn’t have the temperament to be a superhero,
or the temperament for romance." When casting the part of Jenny/G-Girl, Reitman
knew he had to find an actress who could handle the character’s stunt-heavy superheroics
and who had the requisite comedic skills. According to Reitman, there was only
one option: Uma Thurman.
"Who else could play the part?" he asks. "Uma is a special effect in real life!
She’s a wonderful actress, gorgeous, and she has done rigorous stunt work before,
in the ‘Kill Bill’ films." Thurman was eager to tackle Jenny’s superheroics and
super-neuroses. "I loved the idea that Jenny is neurotic, vulnerable and a superhero,"
says the actress. Thurman notes her instincts about taking on the part were on-target.
"I’ve never had more fun making a movie," she notes. "I love doing comedy – it’s
a passion of mine. You don’t often see a female lead like Jenny. She’s angry almost
all the time, and that was great fun to play. Ivan [Reitman] encouraged me to
play Jenny as broadly as possible, and to take the risk of making the character
seem like a fool."
At first glance – or first date – Jenny appears to be quite a "catch"; after all,
she’s a vivacious, vibrant, and beautiful woman. But, as Reitman notes, it doesn’t
take long for the story’s protagonist, Matt Saunders, to realize that there’s
something "off" about Jenny. "She’s a very verbal person," says the director.
"Basically, she talks too much and hasn’t yet learned the fine art of self-censorship."
Jenny is too much – way too much – to handle for a regular guy like Matt. Matt,
played by Luke Wilson, is a successful architect who, like most single people
(including future girlfriend-from hell Jenny), is looking for love. He is the
story’s straight man and, says Reitman, the heart of the film. "Luke really embodies
the quintessential American everyman," says Reitman. "He’s a likable guy with
great comedic timing."
"I thought the script was very funny and, equally important, it had a lot of heart,"
says Wilson. "It’s a very relatable story; everyone’s been through a rocky relationship,
and Matt and Jenny’s connection is definitely rocky…and then some." Given Jenny’s
abilities, even lovemaking becomes a risky proposition. Indeed, MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND
answers the much-debated question: What would sex be like with a woman with superpowers?
"Our sense was that it would be terrific AND painful," says Reitman, who worked
closely with Don Payne to find an original way, within the boundaries of a desired
PG-13 rating, to depict super-powered sex. Jenny and Matt’s first time involves
a bed rocking back and forth against a wall; another amorous encounter finds Jenny
and a near-hysterical Matt joining the "Mile-High Club"…minus the plane, of course.
In the aftermath of their supercharged couplings, and Matt’s growing awareness
of Jenny’s relentless neuroses, he realizes he must break up with her. But hell
hath no fury like a superwoman scorned, and Jenny wants revenge. For starters,
she smashes through his ceiling, leaving a gaping hole. Then, she hangs him off
a point in the crown of the Statue of Liberty, and wrecks his Mustang before putting
it in perpetual orbit. And that’s just for starters. Jenny is also determined
to destroy Matt’s burgeoning relationship with colleague Hannah, played by Anna
Faris of "Scary Movie" (1-4) fame. Hannah, coming off a less-than-satisfying relationship
with a vacuous underwear model, and Matt share a deep friendship that quickly
blossoms into passion.
Faris says she loved the story’s mix of the outrageous and the real. "MY SUPER
EX-GIRLFRIEND reminds me of Ivan’s ‘Ghostbusters,’" she says. "In our film, all
of New York accepts the fact there’s a superhero who regularly saves the day,"
says Faris. "It’s a given; nobody questions it" – just like every New Yorker seems
to accept a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man marauding through Manhattan in "Ghostbusters."
Faris was working on "Scary Movie 4" when she got the call to play Hannah in MY
SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND. The schedules for the two films overlapped, so Faris found
herself shuttling between the productions. She wasn’t the only cast member
who had to juggle two concurrently-filming projects. Rainn Wilson continued to
shoot his part of uber-obsequious paper company drone Dwight Schrute in the acclaimed
sitcom "The Office" while filming MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND.
Wilson plays Matt’s soulless and shallow best friend, Vaughn Haige, whom Reitman
calls a "fountain of bad advice to Matt, and probably the worst advisor in the
world." Adds Rainn Wilson: "Vaughn explains to Matt that the most important thing
in life is sex." How has he come to this conclusion? "Vaughn thinks he’s incredibly
hip and a ladies’ man, but in reality he is neither." A film with a superhero
wouldn’t be complete without a supervillain, and MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND offers
Professor Bedlam, portrayed by Eddie Izzard, as Jenny’s arch-nemesis. (Truthfully,
there’s nothing really "super" about Bedlam; as he notes, he’s just a regular
man – with 10,000 times more money, intelligence and taste than the average person.)
Like Jenny, there’s something "off" about Bedlam. "If you’re going to have a supervillain
in a contemporary movie set in New York, you have to find some off-kilter way
of depicting him," says Reitman. "We didn’t want a traditional comic book villain."
isn’t your garden-variety super-baddie. His goal is to "neutralize" Jenny; for
once the word is not a euphemism for "terminate." He wants to permanently strip
away her powers so she’ll be like any other run-of-the-mill, crazy ex-girlfriend.
Eddie Izzard is a non-traditional casting choice. "Eddie is such an original comedian,"
says Reitman. "He has a regality that goes beyond his being English. The seriousness
with which Bedlam sees himself adds a lovely comic tone to the film." Bedlam’s
backstory with Jenny reveals that they were best friends in high school, until
Jenny obtained her superpowers from a meteorite. With her new abilities – and
hot new look – Jenny became very popular, leaving behind a heartbroken Barry.
("Bedlam" comes from his given name, Barry Edward Lambert…and he’s not really
"Bedlam was unceremoniously dumped by Jenny," says Izzard. "So he bears a huge
grudge. His goal – really his life’s mission – is to bring her down. He’s become
a genius and incalculably wealthy, and he has assembled an extensive criminal
record just to get Jenny’s attention." As if Bedlam and Jenny aren’t making life
difficult enough for Matt, his every action is being scrutinized by his boss,
Carla Dunkirk, played by comic actor Wanda Sykes ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"). Carla
is overly-sensitive to potential sexual harassment in the workplace and ever-vigilant
about inappropriate behavior. "Carla has a field day with Matt’s strange behavior,
from his encounters with Jenny, and his flirtations with Hannah," says Sykes.
"She thinks he’s gone off the deep-end, and she doesn’t want him taking the company
down with him."
A CLOSET AND WARDROBE FIT FOR A SUPERHERO
As conceived by screenwriter Don Payne, Jenny/G-Girl is a sexy, attractive, modern
superhero. But, Payne wondered, what does a contemporary and gorgeous superhero
look like? What does she wear? Payne at first envisioned outfitting G-Girl with
one iconic outfit, like the classic superheroes. Always with an eye to realism,
Ivan Reitman suggested that Jenny have many designer outfits. After all, Reitman
points out, "She’s a woman and would want to mix it up a bit." Most superheroes
have secret retreats. Where would Jenny house her most important accoutrements:
the extensive G-Girl "collection"? The obvious answer: the world’s largest closet,
which is bigger than most apartments. There, Jenny stores hundreds of outfits,
attesting to the fact that while she may be invulnerable, her wardrobe is not.
define Jenny’s/G-Girl’s character, and Reitman entrusted the formidable challenge
and opportunity of designing the characters’ outfits to Laura Jean Shannon. Shannon,
working closely with Uma Thurman, turned G-Girl into a modern-day superhero/fashionista,
with numerous distinct looks and styles. Shannon’s visits to numerous specialty
shops in New York’s east Village helped her bring together the impressive G-Girl
collection. Thurman, like Shannon, wanted the designs to maintain the notion of
"girl power" – that G-Girl’s look and outfits would be more than a male fantasy
of a female superhero. The costumes had to be relatable to women, and would make
G-Girl feel empowered from the inside. Shannon was impressed with Thurman’s ideas
for the costumes, as well as the actresses’ ability to take an outfit to another
level. "Uma would come into a fitting room, put on the clothes, move and stand
in certain ways – and transform the clothes into something different," marvels
The costumes help delineate G-Girl’s character arc. In her early scenes, she wears
what Shannon calls more "girlie-girl" outfits. "The outfits have a powerful undertone,
but are quite feminine," says Shannon. As the story progresses and G-Girl becomes
more unhinged, her look becomes tougher and meaner. "She starts getting a little
more ‘commando’," Shannon continues. "We cover her up more, adding a hood, then
an Yves St. Laurent-designed military jacket, which had a powerful, sculptured
couture feel." Every superhero bears a signature insignia, but G-Girl’s is different
from most. Her "G" emblem, which appears on all her outfits, is not affixed, as
it would be with your garden-variety superhero. G-Girl’s "G" is an accessory,
ranging from a pendent with a "G" fashioned from diamonds, to a platinum broach
with diamonds, to a platinum "G"-buckle on a black leather belt.
Stunt coordinator George Aguilar worked with Ivan Reitman to create several spectacular
action sequences, while maintaining the realistic tone mandated by the director.
"We didn’t want any stunt – no matter how outrageous – to look cartoonish," says
Aguilar. "The fight and flying scenes had to have a gritty, ‘New York’ kind of
feel." One of Aguilar’s biggest challenges was helping to design, with visual
effects supervisor Erik Nash and director of photography Don Burgess, a huge fight
sequence between Anna Faris’ Hannah, who has become newly super-enabled, and Uma
Thurman’s G-Girl. This super-battle, which Rainn Wilson calls "the hottest catfight
in the history of superhero comedies," was staged on and above Second Avenue in
Lower Manhattan. Aguilar choreographed the scene, working first with stunt doubles,
then with the principals for three weeks of preparation and filming. "It was a
tricky and complicated stunt," says Aguilar. "We had two people in the air, fighting
and plummeting to earth – and looking great the entire time!"
Thurman, who had trained for more than a year in wirework and the martial arts
for the "Kill Bill" films, needed little rehearsal for this and other big action/stunt
sequences. Faris, too, had had some wirework experience from her work in the "Scary
Movie" films. Luke Wilson, who takes to the air with Jenny for the high-flying
lovemaking scene, was a newcomer to the world of fight-and-flight stunts, and
his learning curve was somewhat steeper than that of his two leading ladies.
"In a movie with a superhero character, visual effects are important," notes Ivan
Reitman who, having directed the effects-heavy "Ghostbusters" (and its sequel)
and "Evolution," is familiar with that highly-technical world. "But I didn’t want
effects to rule the story." Echoes visual effects supervisor Erik Nash: "We have
a lot of visual effects, but the film is not about the effects. It’s a comedy,
and the effects are there to add to the humor and fun." Reitman wanted G-Girl’s
flying to have a distinct look. "We discussed the idea of G-Girl creating a visual
disturbance in the air – which we called a ‘vortex wake’ – that would make her
more visible when she’s flying at super-speeds," Nash recalls. "She travels so
fast she bends the light in the air around her. It’s her signature trail," made
possible by the miracles of computer generated imagery.
What good is having the ability to fly with vortex wakes, if you can’t devise
creative ways to torment your ex? G-Girl, as imaginative as she is crazy, throws
a live Great White shark through Matt’s apartment window. The shark lands on his
bed, before thrashing savagely around the apartment in a wave of destruction.
The shark sequence is a big visual effects showpiece and one of the film’s most
complex sequences. "It’s an incongruous and fantastical idea," says Reitman. "You
had to believe the shark could be there and interact within that environment and
with the characters." The shark was a digital creation – a streamlined, darker
and even meaner version than an actual Great White. To map out the scene’s beats,
Nash and his team prepared elaborate pre-visualization storyboards. They then
animated and choreographed the scenes. When camera positions were determined,
they cut together a preliminary or test version of the scene, called an animatic,
which became the template for the shark attack.
Sharks, airborne sex, super-catfights…they’re just a few of the many surprises
of MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND. But as Ivan Reitman points out, these all work to service
a story relatable to anyone. "We all had relationships go bad," he says. "We’re
just taking that notion to another level."