For one brief sequence My Super Ex Girlfriend is revolutionary.
Female puberty has long been the grist of horror films, from the Exorcist and Carrie, to Ginger Snaps. When seen from the gaze of primarily male storytellers, the ordeal is one of unavoidable tragedy. Female puberty in these stories either makes girl undergoing it into a beast or into a target.
Superhero films, especially origin films are often metaphors for male puberty. Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America, and the Hulk all dealt with young men who became bigger, stronger, and faster. They weighed with the responsibility that came with moving to the top of the food chain, but all set up their heroes as idealizations. Whatever their ordeals, the audience is meant to desire their gifts.
There’s an origin sequence in My Super Ex Girlfriend that plays like a female riff on the male standard. Nerdy Jenny Johnson demurs from losing her virginity to fellow outcast Barry when an asteroid crashes near Barry’s car. They track down the asteroid, and against protestations Jenny reaches out for it. The asteroid explodes at her touch, imbuing the young girl with a glowing aura. This energy transforms the gawky girl into a beautiful woman with flowing golden hair and exaggerated feminine proportions. But Jenny doesn’t just get physical beauty, she gets powers akin to Superman. I cannot think of another film that implied female puberty could be empowering in the same ways as male puberty, indeed that this transformation could occur without some Faustian bargain (see: Jessica Jones), or satanic curse (a la Jennifer’s Body), nary a PMS reference either. I can’t think of another instance in film with this happening. My Super Ex Girlfriend arrived a full decade before either Marvel or DC would entertain solo films for their top female characters.
Partway through this origin sequence, the perspective shifts. Jenny’s newfound beauty and awesome abilities are seen through Barry’s male gaze. From his point of view this transformation only made Jenny unattainable and thus had to be challenged, no measure of violence off-limits.
Doubly depressing, My Super Ex Girlfriend takes Barry’s side. Jenny is beautiful, capable of astounding feats, and has used both for the benefit of humanity under her alter-ego G-Girl. By the logic of the film this means that she’s destined to remain painfully isolated and a spinster. Forever desperate for real affection and psychotic after rejection.
The nominal protagonist here is Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson), who winds up dating Jenny after her purse is stolen trying in vain to track down the thief. This impresses the superwoman, and the two engage in a courtship.
As soon as Matt wins Jenny’s trust and learns her true identity, his interests shift to a fellow employee of his architectural firm, Hannah (Anna Faris). His attempt to end the relationship with Jenny puts him in physical harm. Jenny trains all of her super powers at Matt, alternately seeking to murder and humiliate him.
Director Ivan Rietman didn’t know what he had here. The final fight between two super powered women in a random fashion show, each pulling apart pieces of the runway to bludgeon each other with, is a symbolic smorgasboard from wich Ex-Girlfriend only nibbles.
Luke Wilson’s key attribute as an actor is his sheer averageness. Framing the film around him rather than Uma Thurman or Eddie Izzard (who plays the adult, now-supervillain Barry) despite both giving pretty interesting performances is inexcusable. Still though, there is that origin sequence, at least the first half of it. On those merits alone My-Super Ex Girlfriend exists as an interesting curio.