Failure To Launch Review
Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) is a handsome, charming 35-year-old man who still hasn't flown the nest. He lives in the attic of his childhood home, where he is waited on by his loving but exasperated parents (Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates) who would like to enjoy their retirement in peace. Since Tripp is failing to take the hint, they decide it's time for drastic measures. They hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), a woman who makes her living pretending to romance male slackers and instilling in them the desire to leave home. However, Paula proves not to be immune to Tripp's charms.
Failure To Launch has a great concept, two appealing stars and a well chosen supporting cast. It's fun for well over an hour before it runs out of ideas and is finally undone by one of the worst endings in the history of romantic comedies. It's a minor disappointment but it isn't without its pleasures.
The subject matter - the "failure to launch" of the title - is a curious social phenomenon and the film addresses it with some wit and intelligence. There's a funny scene set at a barbecue in which Trip's parents and their middle-aged friends discuss their sponging kids. Later, Kathy Bates has a touching moment where she explains why she tolerated, even encouraged her son's leeching for years.
There's also some nicely off-the-wall humour around the edges of the movie, some of it involving Paula's sullen roommate Kit (Zooey Descanel) and her pathological hatred for a noisy mocking bird. Deschanel, a gifted indie actress gives a superb comic performance and she all but walks away with the film. When she gets involved with one of Tripp's slacker buddies (an amusing Justin Bartha), the subplot threatens to unbalance the movie since their romance is more compelling then Tripp and Paula's.
Unfortunately the smarter, quirkier material is padded out with a lot of dumber stuff. The screenwriters, first timers Tom J Astle and Matt Ember seem desperate to give their characters colourful things to do. Everyone always seems to be sailing, paintballing, mountain biking, rock climbing or surfing with dolphins. Nobody ever just goes to a bar. When characters eat at reastaurants, they eat exotic foreign foods that can be accidentally fired at fellow diners. The writers' thinking seems to be: since our characters aren't interesting, let's keep putting them in interesting locations and hope no one notices. It doesn't work.
There's a lot of silly, violent slapstick too - not as much as in January's atrocious rom com Just Friends, which rivalled The Passion Of The Christ in terms of the suffering it inflicted on its protagonist, but still a distracting amount. Failure To Launch thinks animal attacks are very funny indeed. Characters are bitten by woodchucks, birds, lizards and dolphins and slapped by monkeys. Someone needs to explain to screenwriters that someone getting hurt is not funny unless the injury results from a funny situation, for example the zipper scene in There's Something About Mary. In Failure To Launch, the mocking bird gag gets a chuckle but the other animal material belongs in a children's comedy.
The stars are both likeable. Sarah Jessica Parker is still struggling to find material even a fraction as good as Sex And The City but at least this is a big step up from The Family Stone. Matthew McConaughey remains one of the most charismatic male stars in Hollywood, although his narcissism is starting to grate a little. I've seen him in two films this month (the other was mediocre gambling drama Two For The Money) and I'd strongly suggest that in future he places a strict limit on the number of times per film that he (1) grins, (2) looks away bashfully and (3) removes his shirt. Of the strong supporting cast, Zooey Deschanel and Justin Bartha stand out but Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates also deserve recognition for adding some depth to Tripp's parents. Director Tom Dey (Shanghai Noon) gives the film a fabulously glossy look but he can only do so much to paper over the script's weaknesses.
And then there's the ending! I won't go into too much detail but I trust you've seen a romantic comedy before and you know how the formula works: in the final half hour, something must cause the couple to break up so they can get back together again at the climax. I don't have a problem with the formula. How else could I expect this to end - with a bloody massacre? It's the way the movie gets the couple back together that beggars belief. Ironically a character is mocked for coming up with a way of reconciling them that's far less stupid than the one that's actually used.
So can I recommend Failure To Launch? Well, do you like the two stars and do you enjoy a romantic comedy? If you answered yes to both these questions, you'll probably find it pleasant enough, although there are much better films playing at your local multiplex (Inside Man, Hostel, Syriana) and this one is probably best suited to a quiet night at home. If you answered no to either then you'll probably enjoy it roughly as much as having your legs waxed.