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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Failure to Launch (review)

Houston, We Have a Problem

Let me get this straight: Sue and Al want their 35-year-old son, Tripp, out of their house, where he’s been living for, oh, the last 35 years, and so Sue guarantees that his life is a living hell by making his bed daily, doing his laundry, preparing hearty and nutritious breakfasts for him, ensuring that the fridge is stocked with all of Tripp’s favorite snacks and beverages, and generally waiting on him hand and foot?

And — just so I’m clear — Al intentionally walks in on Tripp and whatever random lady of the moment is occupying his son’s bed so that she will discover that Tripp still lives with Mom and Dad and, in a fit of mortification both at being found in the act and learning what a loser Tripp is, will storm out of the house, never to have another thing to do with Tripp, including never getting him to move out on his own?
This is their grand plan for pushing Tripp out of the nest?

Well, we can see where Tripp gets his deep, wide passive-aggressive streak from.

Oh, didn’t I mention? Tripp brings his girlfriends home only when he’s looking to dump them, because even though Tripp believes that he is something of a paragon of manhood and the picture of the devoted son, he knows that women fail to appreciate this in him and usually see the whole living-with-the-’rents thing as a problem. It’s almost as if Tripp were in cahoots with his parents to drive these women away.

Would that that were so, because then Sue (Kathy Bates: Around the World in 80 Days, Dragonfly) and Al (Terry Bradshaw: Robots) wouldn’t have been driven — in a grand fit of passive-aggressiveness — to hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker: The Family Stone, State and Main) to trick Tripp into wanting to leave at long last. And then there’d be no movie called Failure to Launch, which is as nasty and misanthropic a piece of work as, oh, the entire genre of nasty-and-misanthropic “romantic” “comedies” we’ve been bombarded with in recent years (Deliver Us from Eva, Hitch, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), half of which seem to star Matthew McConaughey.

You know what’s really awful? Failure to Launch is supposed to be charming and sophisticated and witty, as if it were starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn tossing bon mots at each other or something. But the script — by TV writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, which explains its unpleasant sitcom quality — has no snap, no magic, and there’s not a lick of passion, wonder, or joie de vivre to what is supposed to be a breezy love story. Parker and McConaughey (Two for the Money, Sahara), as Tripp, spectacularly fail to sizzle… and maybe that’s no surprise, since this is all about how easy it is for women to manipulate men, and how willing men are to be manipulated. (In that respect, it’s the exact opposite of Hitch, but exactly as repulsive.) There’s no room for chemistry, for spark, for the unknown factor when it comes to falling in love: it’s all just a mathematical equation, a step-by-step procedure that’s simple to fake.

And that’s what Paula does: she takes poor schmoes, like the oh-so-easy-to-make-fun-of overweight Star Wars fan we see her with in one scene, and she maneuvers them into falling in love with her, which — for some reason — will get them to move out of their parents’ houses. The parents pay her to do this, see, because, obviously, no one is capable of even gently suggesting to their grown children that it’s TIME TO FREAKING LEAVE, and the sons are such impossibly pathetic dorks that they cling to the first woman who’s paid to show a little interest in them, and somehow even when she breaks their hearts and breaks it off, they’ll still be all grown up all of a sudden. And it has nothing to do with sex: Paula’s no slut, she doesn’t sleep with her “clients.” She just lies to them.

And this is romantic. And funny. And a lovely date movie.

And people call me cynical.

Lest there be any confusion, Tripp is, naturally, not like all those pathetic fanboys and dorks Paula pretends to like for money. (Is there such a thing as emotional prostitution? If there wasn’t, there is now.) Nooo, something Bad happened to Tripp once, so he’s allowed to continue being a spoiled manchild — he’s earned it. Somehow, this tragedy in his past is supposed to make it “real” when he (spoiler alert! — not) falls in love with Paula, although why the effect of her exploitation of him should be any different than it was with all the other men she’s tricked is never adequately explored.

It could have been, perhaps, if less time was spent on the bizarre sidebars about wildlife that cartoonishly attacks Tripp at random intervals, like something out of a Farrelly brothers grossout. It’s as if the screenwriters knew that the whole “hey guess what, your new girlfriend is an emotional prostitute your parents hired to mindfuck you” thing wasn’t working as comedy, so they threw in some Bugs Bunny shit. Not only does it not mix well with Tripp’s idiotic sentimental tragedy schtick, but I don’t think Cary Grant ever got bitten by a crazed chipmunk.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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