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Failure to Launch
A Passably Entertaining, Lightweight Romantic Comedy
by Mel Valentin on Mar 10, 2006
In Failure to Launch, a romantic comedy directed by Tom Dey (Shanghai Noon), a 35-year old semi-slacker, Trip (Matthew McConaughey), prefers the ease and comfort of living with his parents, Al (Terry Bradshaw) and Sue (Kathy Bates), than living on his own.
Al is more than eager for Trip to move on and move out to his own place. Sue is the classic enabler. Part of her wants Trip to move on too, but another part of her wants to coddle and care for him. To that end, she's both cook and housemaid. Trip's slacker friends, Ace (Justin Bartha) and Demo (Bradley Cooper), also live with their parents (it seems to be a neighborhood epidemic, as one scene involving middle-age parents seems to indicate). Al has had enough, especially after Trip brings his latest girlfriend home to "meet the parents".
Al and Sue hire Paula, a professional interventionist (i.e., a therapist of some kind, but it's unclear whether she's actually licensed to practice psychotherapy), to help convince Trip to move out on his own. Paula has made a living at surreptitiously helping child-men like Trip develop self-esteem and confidence by acting as a surrogate girlfriend. Paula has dating down to an emotion-free science. Paula's managed to escape emotional involvement with her clients. It helps (a lot) that Trip is tall, well tanned and has charm and self-confidence to spare (and let's not forget a gleaming set of porcelain white teeth). So why is still living with his parents? The short answer: Trip has commitment issues, but he's not quite the egotist he appears to be.
As Trip and Paula play-act at romance, with Trip hoping to avoid deep emotional commitment and Paula attempting to keep her personal feelings in abeyance, Failure to Launch goes where every romantic comedy has gone before, with reversals, revelations, betrayals, and the inevitable (this is a romantic comedy, after all), affirmation of monogamous bliss as the end credits roll. The obstacles facing couples in romantic couples come in predictable varieties, from class, to race, preexisting relationships, even to gender orientation, but often the obstacles are internal, e.g., prejudices, biases, misconceptions, or, as in Failure to Launch, deception.
As is typical for romantic comedies, Trip and Paula aren't alone in their romantic inclinations and/or difficulties. Trip's friend Ace, a socially awkward software engineer, has a crush on Paula's acerbic, sharp-tongued, temperamental roommate, Kit (Zooey Deschanel). Trip's parents represent the other extreme, comfortable middle age and a unperturbed, if not necessarily passionate, long-term relationship. Trip's other friend, Demo, is the most carefree of the bunch. He's less interested in romance than in his next trip abroad. He seems keenly interested, though, in getting Trip into a long-term romantic relationship.
Much of the comedy (what there is) in Failure to Launch comes from Kit's wry, cynical one-liners and her near homicidal response to a mockingbird that won't let her sleep at night (there's a highly humorous scene inside a Wal-Mart-like store where Kit tries to buy a shotgun from a concerned salesperson played by The Daily Show's Rob Cordry). There's a strain of physical comedy tied to Trip's unfortunate encounters with hostile wildlife that fits awkwardly with the rest of the film. There's also a painfully funny scene, though, involving Al's desire for a room of his own (audiences aren't likely to forget this scene, for better or for worse).
More importantly, romantic comedies depend on the chemistry between the leads, and while McConaughey and Parker throw off the occasional spark, they just don't have the sizzle. McConaughey's (limited) range makes him well suited for lightweight romantic comedies, but this paring with Parker falls short (and someone, anyone, please turn down the brightness on McConaughey's teeth). The rest of the cast, particularly Bartha, Cooper, and Deschanel fare better. Cooper could (and should) carry a romantic leading role, while Bartha and Deschanel share an off-kilter chemistry that would be perfectly apt in an indie film. Alas, Kathy Bates has little to do here, although she does have the best-delivered confessional scene in the film, but that shouldn't come as a surprise to her fans.
Overall, Failure to Launch isn't (and wasn't) made for cynics or those easily troubled by a credibility-stretching premise. It's admittedly quite a lot to accept, but if you go with the flow, Failure to Launch isn't a half-bad way to spend a Saturday evening at the local multiplex. It just won't be a memorable experience (then again, it probably wasn't meant to be).
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Mar 10, 2006
Matthew McConaughey as Trip and Sarah Jessica Parker as Paula, images courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Zooey Deschanel as Kit
Kathy Bates as Sue