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Failure to Launch Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/23/2006

What is up with all of these recent projects involving fully-grown guys who still live with their parents?  Between FOX’s “Free Ride” and the indie pic Lonesome Jim, there seems to be a rash of them.  The good thing is that, while very predictable, Failure to Launch succeeds in charming movie audiences.

Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) is a 35-year-old boat broker.  He is good-looking and successful as a boat broker, and he has no trouble meeting women…like Melissa (Katheryn Winnick), the woman he is seeing in the beginning of the movie.  After Melissa spots an old couple having dinner, it prompts her to give Tripp the “where is our relationship going” talk.  Sirens go off in his head and he reverts to his fallback plan whenever a woman is getting too serious with him…take her home.  Why…you ask?  It is because he still lives at home with his parents Al (Terry Bradshaw) and Sue (Kathy Bates)…who blandly participate in helping Tripp scare his girlfriends off when he wants to dump them.  They are usually so horrified by the thought that a thirtysomething still lives with his parents that they tend to leave…which is part of why Tripp likes still living there (and the home-cooked meals and free maid service that his mother provides…and of course no rent.)  He can’t imagine ever leaving home…a thought that he shares with his best friends Ace (Justin Bartha) a.k.a. Phillip, a tech geek, and Demo (Bradley Cooper), a supposed world traveler…both of which prefer to live at home with their parents as well.  Al and Sue just go along with it…thinking that there is nothing that they can do, since he’s not a criminal or a drug addict or something.  At a neighborhood barbeque, hosts Bud (Stephen Tobolowsky) and Bey (Kate McGregor-Stewart) tip him off about a “failure to launch” professional named Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) who dates mama’s boys and persuades them into moving out on their own…sometimes using manipulation on her part.  They used her to help “launch” their own son Dougie…and they have been in bliss since.  Paula isn’t a hooker (she makes this clear from the beginning that no sex is involved), and she makes sure not to become attached to any of them herself.  She starts out by conveniently meeting Tripp at a furniture store where Al and Sue are buying a new recliner.  Paula flirts with Tripp, and they set up a lunch date.  The date that Tripp takes Paula to is on one of the boats that he is brokering, but his boss, Mr. Axelrod (Adam Alexi-Malle), interrupts it.  After meeting with Tripp’s parents, Paula gives them the foolproof schedule of events that she will experience with Tripp that will convince him to move out:  she pretends to like what the guy likes; she allows him to help her through a crisis; she meets his friends; and she lets him teach her something.  After that, she lets him down easy, but not before he decides to move out (remember…this doesn’t include sleeping with him.)  Her sarcastic best friend and roommate Kit (Zooey Deschanel) thinks that Paula’s occupation is a little odd, but currently she is more concerned with a mockingbird that’s been keeping her awake at night.  As Paula starts dating Tripp, for some reason, passive animals, like a squirrel and a dolphin, keep attacking him.  She ends up breaking both of her rules (i.e. falling in love and sleeping with him), and she doesn’t know how to deal with it.  Meanwhile, Ace spots Paula with another “client,” a Star Wars geek mama’s boy (Patton Oswalt), on a “date” in a coffee shop.  She promises to set Ace up on a date with Kit if he won’t tell Tripp.  Tripp finds out anyway, and dumps Paula (but she does succeed in convincing him to move out also.)  Since they are obviously perfect for each other, Ace, Demo, Kit, Tripp’s parents, and a black kid named Jeffrey (Tyrell Jackson Williams), whom Tripp calls his “nephew,” all conspire to put them back together in the only way a romantic comedy can.

Director Tom Dey probably knew from the beginning that there was no way this romantic comedy wouldn’t end happily, so he took the screenplay, written by television writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, and attempted to make it as entertaining as possible.  If you are a fan of romantic comedies (I would include myself in that crowd), then you know that they all have very similar plotlines.  Guy meets girl, guy loses girl, guy and girl get back together at the end (usually in a wedding scene.)  Aside from slight differences from the above formula, romantic comedy fans all know this coming in.  The challenge is to take said formula and make it as enjoyable as possible.

One way is to fill it with good actors that are actually funny.  In the case of the two leads, McConaughey and Parker, I found them both attractive-looking, but with decent to no chemistry.  I have to admit that I was puzzled as to why McConaughey was cast as a mama’s boy when most other mama’s boys I know in both the movies and in real life are more like the character that Oswalt plays.  Honestly…if you are as hot as McConaughey…do you really need to use your parents to dump women?  I mean home-cooked meals and free maid service are nice, but after a while, you want some independence (I have a theory about why mama’s boys remain mama’s boys long after the age of 18…their moms don’t teach their boys how to cook for themselves or clean up after themselves.  The guys who are taught these things while still living at home as a teenager are probably more than likely to have the desire to move out as adults.)  Good-looking guys can get any woman that they want, so there is no need to play these games.  After seeing this movie, I still thought that McConaughey was a bad choice to play the part.  If Bartha and Deschanel had been the leads, it would have been more realistic…and funnier as well.

Speaking of the supporting characters, they are the ones that really save this movie from disappointment and even manage to make it very funny.  I have to start out with Deschanel, who’s acting was concerning me for a while.  After I fell in love with her because of her standout performance in 2002’s The Good Girl, I continued to be impressed with her, even in some bad movies like The New Guy and Abandon (both from 2002.)  When she graduated from her usual “quirky best friend” status to leading lady…she lost the funny.  2003’s Elf was okay, but the manic Will Ferrell overshadowed her.  She was surprisingly the worst actress in the bland 2005 sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…and I started to get worried about her.  This movie returns her back to “quirky best friend” status, and maybe she should stay that way for a little bit.  Now…if she manages to do another funny, quirky performance in a lead role (I don’t know…I haven’t seen all of her movies), maybe she can get promoted to “leading lady” status again (though I wonder if that much quirk in a lead role would turn off most fans of romantic comedies.  For me, I’d love to see a daring filmmaker attempt that.)  This was Bartha’s best role in his brief career.  If you take into consideration that I’ve only seen him in 2003’s awful Gigli and 2004’s just-okay National Treasure, that isn’t a hard feat to achieve.  For a man who could be the lead role in dramas with his good looks, I’m surprised that Cooper has done mostly comedies.  Fortunately, he is funny as well.  Bates and Bradshaw are very memorable in their roles…and manage to have more chemistry than McConaughey and Parker.  I will say that the shot of Bradshaw’s naked butt in his “naked room” was almost horror-movie disturbing (similar to the unsettling hot tub scene that featured Bates being naked in 2002’s About Schmidt.)

The worst part of the movie had to be the completely inane animal attacks though.  I know, I know…having docile animals…such as a squirrel, a dolphin, and a vegetarian lizard…attack Tripp was meant to be a metaphor for how he wasn’t “connecting with the natural order of things,” but it was a bit of slapstick that I found unnecessary.  It was similar to the physical torture that Will Smith went through by having an allergic reaction to the food he eats which swells him up like a balloon in last year’s Hitch.

Aside from the lack of chemistry between the two leads, the un-believability of McConaughey, and the animal attacks…Failure to Launch is a movie that I would recommend to all fans of romantic comedies.  The supporting characters more than make up for the film’s weaknesses, and I don’t think that it failed to please me or anyone else that I have talked to (other critics may have not lifted off the pad with their opinions though…but do “other critics” ever like romantic comedies?)

Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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