8.16.2012

Movie review: Failure to Launch — High on animal attacks, low on romance

Failure to LaunchContinuing in my fine tradition of reviewing things no one cares about anymore, I bring you: Failure to Launch, the romantic comedy starring Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker, neither of whom I can stand.

Oh, dear, I meant to be more circumspect and just say something like "I have trouble connecting to those actors," but the truth came out. I'm sure they're lovely people. I just don't like watching them. There you are.

So why was I? Because Sam signed us up for a preview of Amazon Prime, and I was determined to explore the instant video options available. I really want to watch Downton Abbey, but for my purposes that day, I needed something that could run comfortably in the background.

I'm glad I didn't give Failure to Launch any more attention than it deserved.

It was so. weird. I couldn't figure out (a) why I should care about these people, (b) where the plot would plausibly be going, and (c) why there were so many slapstick animal biting moments.

That last one was a doozy, but I'll get to it in a second.

The basic premise: Thirty-something Tripp (MM) lives at home with his parents, Kathy Bates & Terry Bradshaw (I didn't catch their character names; I'm unobservant like that), who hire Paula (SJP) to pretend-date him to increase his confidence and encourage him to leave the nest. Paula is a professional, you see; only, she usually deals with geeky types rather than a cocky man whose chiseled chest shirts flee in terror. So right there, you're wondering why he's still living at home, and why there isn't an easier way to get him to leave.

In fact, Tripp is a commitment-phobe who has a habit of breaking up with any girl who starts getting serious by taking her home to discover that (gasp!) he still lives with his parents. Naturally, all these girls hastily depart. I realize the trope they're playing off of here, but I have to think that someone who actually liked him would dig deeper to find out why he lives with his parents and whether it's actually a healthy relationship.

But there's the secret of the film: There is no depth! These are completely unlikable characters! Oh, they eventually try to shoehorn in some pathos in Tripp's and Paula's pasts, but it didn't really make any sense to me, and seemed like too little too late, since Tripp was already well established as a devil-may-care love-'em-and-leave-'em type who steals borrows people's boats, and Paula is portrayed as a convincing professional liar. I kept waiting for some chemistry between them, some sense the facade was cracking — that Tripp's heart was being affected, that Paula's well-crafted process of fake-dating was faltering, but … again, there was too little of it, and when Kathy Bates tells Paula straight out, "You're in love with my son," I seriously felt my face scrunch up in confusion. How could she tell? I couldn't tell.

That to me is poor screenwriting (or maybe poor acting or directing or editing, but I'm guessing screenwriting is the first to blame). In fact, there seemed to be all sorts of outright jokes crammed into the dialogue as if to suggest, "See? We're a rom-com! That's why there's such witty repartee!" When really, it just further highlighted how fake everyone was. People don't talk like that to each other! It's weird.

But weirder still? The movie's slapstick moments, most of which involved animatronic wild animals. I have no idea what audience this was trying to appeal to. The men dragged along to a chick flick who find the movie redeemed as long as someone gets bitten? The women who think wild animals are so cutesie-wutesie? I can't imagine.

There were five (count 'em, FIVE) scenes with an animal puppet and CGI, four of which involved violence against the humans. The screenwriting tried poorly to justify this inanity by suggesting Tripp's imbalance with his love life was causing an imbalance in nature (um…huh?), but it was truly just stupid. For instance, a lizard almost kills Tripp in a climbing accident. Two of the minor characters have to perform CPR on a mockingbird (I know! Wha—? Also an odd side plot there, though Zooey Deschanel is entertaining). You're left reeling, asking yourself, Am I drunk? Is this fantasy? How does this fit the otherwise realistic-ish setting of the story? (Answers: Maybe — I won't judge; sadly, no; and, it doesn't.)

Another random point: Why is Sarah Jessica Parker rooming with Zooey Deschanel? Aren't they, like, 20 years apart in age? (Ok, I looked it up, and it's 15.) I feel like Paula is supposed to be this career woman in her … well, supposedly 30s, but she's living with a grumpy hipster, and I just didn't understand how their relationship had come about. Minor quibble, but it speaks to the general hodgepodge feel of the movie.

Phew, I feel better. Now on to Downton Abbey…finally!

Did you watch Failure to Launch? Do you love SJP and The Shirtless One and now are mad at me for mocking them? It's not my fault; the screenwriting made me do it.
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