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Failure to Launch (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

Failure to Launch

Failure to Launch


Starring Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Terry Bradshaw, Kathy Bates, Tyrell Jackson Williams, Katheryn Winnick, Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Adam Alexi-Malle and Gretchen Cleevely.

Screenplay by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember.

Directed by Tom Dey.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  97 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

There is an amusing movie in the high concept of Failure to Launch.

The idea of a 35-year-old man still living with his parents – long after they are ready for him to spread his wings – is trenchant these days.  As the movie accurately points out, this kind of thing is happening more and more in these days of high prices, low wages and late marriages.  It could be deliriously funny, just check out Chris Elliott’s short-lived sitcom Get a Life.  It is a very comic situation that should be easily exploited for laughs.

However, Failure to Launch squanders its good idea mercilessly.

It is a romantic comedy which is neither romantic nor comic.  In fact, it misfires on almost every level.

Let’s start with the casting.  Matthew McConaughey is much too chiseled, too self-confident, too clever, too comfortable in his own skin.  You never truly believe he would be in this position.  His character, Trip, has a good job.  He has a hot car.  He is a suave liar and dates regularly.  He even has a sexy-man name.  A guy like that is not going to crimp his lifestyle just to get a home-cooked meal and have his laundry done for him.  Trip’s best friend, played by Bradley Cooper (Wedding Crashers, Kitchen Confidential) is similarly way too together to be stuck in the same rut.

Sarah Jessica Parker is also all wrong for her role.  She plays Paula, a woman who makes a living hiring herself out to parents, getting involved with their sons, talking them into moving out from the parents’ house and then dumping them flat.  This is a mean, heartless thing to do and Parker seems much too nice to be that cold.  Also, frankly, she just isn’t sexy enough to be believable in getting a man to completely overturn his life for her – maybe the cameo nerd (Patton Oswalt) she is working at on the side might be desperate enough, but certainly not Trip.

The truth is – and this is a bad, bad thing for a romantic comedy – the two of them deserve each other, and not in a good way.  Both can be casually cruel – beyond Paula’s job, she also says some very hurtful things to her roommate and apparently only close girlfriend (Zooey Deschanel).  He uses his parents as a gimmick to dump girlfriends due to his commitment-phobia, a habit that is obviously hard on everyone else but him.  A tragic past is stuck on late in the film, but it is too little and too late to explain how he has become what he is.  Just because Trip hangs out with a little orphan boy doesn’t make him any less of an asshole.  He, too, is a jerk to his friends.

Those friends, particularly Deschanel and Cooper, are much more interesting and likable than are our leads.  Of course, Failure to Launch is so tin-eared to real life that it does not get these two cute sidekicks together, instead saddling them with less interesting new conquests.

Kathy Bates is also, as always, pretty terrific in the supporting role as Trip’s long-suffering mother.  However, any sex comedy in which the only main character to get naked is Terry Bradshaw has a real mean streak.

This mean streak is further shown in several scenes in which human beings (mostly McConaughey) are bitten by wild animals.  It isn’t funny the first time, but Failure to Launch keeps dragging this desperate act out to further the plot.  Then, the eventual explanation that the movie tries to foist on the audience – that Trip is going against nature in his lifestyle and therefore nature is rejecting him – is both horribly condescending and at the same time complete bullshit.

In the end, no one gives a damn whether these two self-centered characters live happily ever after (honestly, I was rooting for a tragic ending for both).  So when the eventual final confrontation is shown – broadcast on the Internet for no other reason than so they could show friends’ and strangers’ reactions – the audience shares a collective shrug, wondering what there was to save in this relationship.  More likely, the viewers are thinking “better them than me.”   (3/06)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved. Posted: April 6, 2006.

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