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What If You Could Relive Your Past
First up, fresh out of the 1980s, with her denim-and-lace ensemble and hair out to there, is 16-year-old Allison Vandermeersh, aka The Ghost of Girlfriends Past, played by Emma Stone. She whisks Conner back in time to when he was an earnest, sweet boy who wore his heart on his sleeve and called Jenny Perotti his best friend. Together, Allison and the adult Connor revisit the humiliation of a very significant junior high slow-dance and then skid through one wrong turn after another that put him on the road to becoming the infamous Connor Mead.

Cast on the strength of her comical but touching performance in "Superbad,” Stone enjoyed pulling out all the stops as Allison, whom she calls "a firecracker. Allison is essentially a kind of hallucination, permanently stuck in the exact moment when she first crossed paths with Connor, meaning she's still in that crazy 16-year-old state and very excitable.”

Next, to shine a light on more recent events, is Connor's assistant Melanie, played by Noureen DeWulf. Though technically not a girlfriend, Melanie appears as The Ghost of Girlfriends Present by virtue of the fact that she's the only consistent relationship Connor currently has with a woman. Says DeWulf, "She's not exactly thrilled with the assignment. He already works her way too much and now she has to freelance for him on the weekend as a ghost? It's so typical.” The upside for Melanie is that during these sequences their working relationship is reversed so that she's the boss. She takes the weary but increasingly self-aware bachelor through the walls of some New York City apartments to see what really happens on the other end of the phone after he says goodbye. But the scariest, by far, is The Ghost of Girlfriends Future, a silent ethereal beauty played by Olga Maliouk, who offers Connor a glimpse into what his life will become if he continues to reject real love.

"The ghost element was a great device for introducing the time traveling, and it really opened up the storytelling potential,” says McConaughey, who literally threw himself into the slapstick possibilities of some of his scenes. "There's more freedom when you step outside the real world, there's more room for playfulness and, in a weird way, honesty. Mark and I kept finding new ways to work with it.”

As for the logistics of what Waters calls "Ghost Rules,” that's a question he has considered before, having negotiated the romance between a man and a ghostly woman in the 2005 comedy "Just Like Heaven.” "Sometimes actors will be concerned about details like whether or not seat cushions should visibly depress when they're supposed to be sitting and my response is, ‘It doesn't matter. It's Ghost Rules.' I feel that once the audience accepts the theatrical conceit that there are characters in play that cannot be seen or heard by everyone, they understand what you're doing and they go with it. With a story like this, it's not about the effects; it's about Connor's journey and his being present in all these revealing scenarios.”

"In his initial ghost encounters, Connor is trying to be seen and to stop things from happening but he's powerless. Then, gradually, he stops trying to affect things physically because he realizes it's not only useless, it's dangerous and painful,” says McConaughey.

It also makes for moments of delicious counterpoint, notes the director, as when Connor is forced to witness a sweet scene unfold between Jenny and her unexpected new suitor Brad, in the Mead Mansion kitchen. "It's like two different stories running simultaneously. On the one hand, it's a classic romantic scene being played out by Jenny and Brad as they get to know each other, but at the same time there's the disembodied Connor standing by, thinking ‘this is a nightmare, I'm bringing them together.'”

Garner agree

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