Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Rare Distracted Movie Review: Failure To Launch Fails To Impress

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting story, Moments of humor
The Bad: Frenetic moments, Predictability, Final moments, Main characters
The Basics: When Tripp meets Paula, it might be love, save that she is working for his parents to get this thirty year-old out of their house.

It's rare that I wait more than four days to review a movie (a trip out of town saw to that in this case) and it's even more uncommon that I review a movie that I saw under such strange circumstances as Failure To Launch. My mother was watching Failure To Launch one afternoon when I stopped by to pick her up to take her to lunch. She insisted on finishing it before leaving, so I watched the last twenty minutes of the movie. She then insisted I take it with me to watch and - finding my queue otherwise empty - so I did. I cannot think of a movie I've basically ruined the end of only to sit down and watch it days later.

Failure To Launch follows a laid-back boat dealer named Tripp who is in his thirties and living at home with his parents. Tripp soon meets Paula, an attractive woman who is seemingly not repulsed by Tripp's life without land and property and the two begin to date. The problem, as the viewers are instantly brought into, is that Paula is actually a specialist working for Tripp's parents to get him out of their house. As Paula develops real feelings for Tripp, her life - and his - become complicated.

Ultimately, I am recommending Failure To Launch because, though it is an average movie, it smartly deals with some aspects in a complicated manner. Sue, Tripp's mother, is largely motivated by fear which she expresses to Tripp late in the movie. Tripp is motivated by a strong sense of loss and on a grander scale, Failure To Launch is the first movie in my experience to deal with the growing phenomenon of adult children in the U.S. living with their parents, usually as a result of economics.

It's rare that one watches a movie that is clever enough to make things complicated. Tripp is not a loser and one of his friends who initially appears to be one is even less of one, having bought his parents' house to avoid the estate tax. Tripp's father, Al, even develops in the course of the movie, so it feels less like a monolithic romantic comedy.

The problem is when the movie stops being clever and defying the conventions of romantic comedies by focusing entire scenes on characters who are not the leads and instead descends into the inane and ridiculous. In Failure To Launch, this takes the form of slapstick comedy with Tripp being attacked by a dolphin, a chipmunk and something else. I say "something else" because I know there were at least three frenetic, spasmodic scenes with animals flying around, but the movie left such a lack of an impression on such scenes that it was largely forgettable. At only 97 minutes, I want to think that the ridiculous slapstick intervals are simply a way to kill time to get the film up to conventional standards. Though I suspect director Tom Dey and writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember could have extended the movie more organically, I'll try not to blame their choice.

Sarah Jessica Parker plays Paula and it's hard to judge her acting in Failure To Launch, as the role is fairly indistinct; she is generic professional and female romantic lead. She had more of a screen presence in The Family Stone (reviewed here!) and this did not seem much different from any of the episodes of Sex And The City I've seen in terms of acting. This is not the role to define Parker.

Similarly, Matthew McConaughey as Tripp is a bland, generic, Hollywood-good-looking, "Aww shucks"-charming, well-off thirtysomething lead. He's indistinct and bland and his screen presence - or lack thereof, makes one wonder how he was voted "sexy" at anything; he's far too generic for that, with all of the important information about his place and character being relayed by others.

And that's why Failure To Launch comes close to failing. The lead actors are not distinctive in their roles. All of the bit actors steal the show. Kathy Bates has a supporting role as Sue and Terry Bradshaw, as Al, steals ever scene they share from her. Who would have guessed that Terry Bradshaw could hold his own in a supporting movie role and legitimately earn praise for it? Bradley Cooper, who I always enjoyed on Alias, (reviewed here!) gives a strong supporting performance as Demo, a character too infrequently used in Failure To Launch.

It is actress Zooey Deschanel who throws the movie over the top. Deschanel plays Kit, a bitter, borderline alcoholic who is Paula's best friend and is plagued by a mockingbird. She plays the role with enthusiasm and sarcastic stoicism that make her the easiest character and actor in the movie to watch. She's able to turn her moods on a dime, almost violently in a way that few actors can.

In short, Failure To Launch is a pretty straightforward romantic comedy save that it is diluted with slapstick and strong supporting characters that have little in competition for airtime with the a-story. It's not going to light the world on fire, but it's also not the worst movie one could watch when the queue is otherwise empty.

For other works with Zooey Deschanel, be sure to visit my reviews of:
New Girl - Season 1
Yes Man
Weeds - Season 2
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Almost Famous


Check out how this film stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page where the films are organized best to worst.

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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