Failure to Launch
2006Director: Tom Dey
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel
ere's a philosophical puzzle that's probably out of place when discussing such a ridiculous film: If a movie does not successfully achieve the defining traits of its supposed genre, can it be classified within it? If a movie attempts, but fails, to be scary, is it really horror? Are Pauly Shore movies "comedies"? When a movie passes itself off as a light romantic comedy, yet compels me to fantasize about inflicting tragic violence on innocent people, is it really a romantic comedy? Probably not, but there are only so many categories at the video store. Nothing romantic or funny transpires in Failure to Launch, yet when you go rent it, which I don't suggest, romantic comedy is where it'll be. No system is without its flaws.
Whatever. The term "failure to launch," beyond providing a bad title, describes an increasingly common condition that has received some media attention in recent years (though I've never heard it referred to by that name): adult children who are unable to leave the nest. This is an interesting topic that might have received thoughtful exploration in an intelligent film. Failure begins promisingly enough. Matthew McConaughey plays Tripp (hint to women: if a guy is called "Tripp," he was probably in a fraternity), a 35-year-old womanizer who lives with his parents (Kathy Bates, Terry Bradshaw) and only hangs out with other guys who live with their parents. Tripp's mom and dad only hang out with other retirees whose grown children still live at home. There's good comedy and insight buried somewhere in that premise, but the filmmakers aren't sure where to dig for it.
Yup, it's another irrelevant meet-cute/hook-up/break-up/hook-back-up fluff film of which there are dozens every year. The love-interest is Sarah Jessica Parker as Paula, a professional liar hired by parents who want their kids to move out. She pretends to date them, then breaks their hearts once they sufficiently mature, which means there's a special place reserved for her in Hell. In one scene, she's fake-dating an overweight "Star Wars" fan (uncredited Patton Oswalt), who can hardly contain his happiness that a woman with her physical attributes finds him attractive. It's supposed to be funny, but comes off as grossly cruel and painful to watch. Tripp isn't much better. A prototypical alpha male who is, deep breath, Afraid of Commitment, he dates all kinds of women, and just as they start to get to serious, he drops the "I live with my parents" bomb and the women always split. The screenwriters lazily supply him with a tragic back-story late in the film that explains his inability to commit. Y'know, because not wanting a serious relationship is obviously symptomatic of some deep psychological trauma?
It’s no surprise that Tripp's folks hire Paula to do her evil business on their son, and that the two of course fall in love. Do you suppose, perhaps, the plan will unravel and blow up in everyone's face at the least convenient time? And that the two leads will eventually reconcile? I won't ruin the surprise. Think Tripp's interest in sailing means that, at some point, he will be accidentally knocked into the water? Curious what Terry Bradshaw's naked ass looks like? Wonder no more.
Zooey Deschanel, a good actress with better things to do, plays Paula's alcoholic roommate, whose purpose in the film is to kill a mockingbird that keeps her awake all night. Coincidentally, To Kill a Mockingbird is the title of a classic American novel. That's good for one joke, but here it's stretched into an excruciating subplot that culminates with someone giving a bird mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, then being bitten by the bird, etc. Other animals that bite characters include a chipmunk, a dolphin, and a lizard. This is an inadvisable attempt to balance a sentimental human comedy with broad slapstick, a task that should generally be left to the Farrelly brothers.
For all their lack of chemistry here, Parker and McConaughey have been funny elsewhere, but fans of their previous work should do themselves a favor and skip this one. Parker has had a tough time since Sex and the City, sticking mostly with variations of that character. During Failure, you half-expect her obnoxious Carrie Bradshaw voice-over to kick in ("I couldn't help but wonder: Why do I ask so many rhetorical questions?"). McConaughey once did an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that was so funny Comedy Central skipped the commercials to let him finish. (It involved him pantomiming goat sex.) So, maybe they had the right idea with all the animal comedy, but like almost everything in Failure to Launch (okay, here comes the obvious pun), it fails to take off.