Having been a great fan of “Sex and the City,” I was delighted to see Sarah Jessica Parker return to the big screen. Her first movie released “The Family Stone” was a wonderful departure from her television role; allowing her to stretch her wings outside of her typical comical arena. While her role in “Failure to Launch” leads her right back to her romantic comedy days, she is utterly charming and delightful to watch.
In this wonderful romantic comedy, Parker plays a life coach of sorts by the name of Paula. She specializes in helping parents rid themselves of their 30-something sons who continue to live at home. Since I am intimately aware of this issue – – my son was over 25 before we could pry him out of the house – – I suspected that this movie would be very entertaining. It was!
Matthew McConaughey as Tripp – – the son who refuses to go away – – is well, a real trip! He plays a 35-year-old sports enthusiast and boat salesman who uses his living arrangements with mom and dad as a means to get him out of any potential serious relationship. It doesn’t appear that Tripp is afraid of leaving home as much as he is of that horrible word – – commitment. And, of course, he is also a little lazy. Why leave home and have to cook and clean for yourself when you can get your mother to do it for you?
The truth is, however, is that Tripp isn’t the only one to blame for the current situation, Doting mom, Sue (played by Kathy Bates) and dad, Al (played by Terry Bradshaw) must also take responsibility for the arrangement. Apparently the two of them never heard of using the word “NO” (Like I’m the one to talk!). Instead they make his favorite foods, do his laundry, clean his pad, make his bed and generally satisfy his every need.
Secretly, however, unbeknownst to Tripp, his parents have hired Paula to try to blast their son out of their home. She is tasked with instilling in him enough fortitude to desire striking out on his own. Everything seems to work fine at first. Paula arranges to meet Tripp and charms him into that inevitable first date. The scene in the furniture store where they supposedly meet by accident is absolutely wonderful. Soon after, of course, Paula sets about working her magic to convince Tripp, in subtle, ’round about ways, that he really does want to live on his own.
Obstacles start emerging rather quickly, however. Tripp’s buddy Ace (played by Justin Bartha) finds out what Paula does for a living and forces her to convince her roommate Kit (played by Zooey Deschanel) to date him in order to keep him quiet. As if that complication weren’t enough, Paula also finds out information about Tripp that makes it clear he isn’t exactly like the men she has worked with in the past.
As you might guess, Paula develops feelings for Tripp. She even breaks one of her own cardinal rules. When Tripp finally catches on to the whole situation, everything goes south. He decides to extract his own private type of revenge on not only Paula, but on mom and dad as well.
The screenplay, written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember has a lot more potential than is actually realized. The plot line is rich in spots but woefully thin in others. It is lucky for the writers that the charm of the characters and the heartwarming sentiment of the overall story are more than sufficient to make up for the screenplay’s shortcomings.
Parker is perfectly cast in the role of Paula. She meshes well with her character who is dutifully light and breezy, adorably sweet, relentlessly sharp, and absolutely compassionate. Some might say that this role isn’t a stretch for Parker who can play this type of heroine in her sleep. I say, who cares when she is so much fun to watch? Plus, she is one of the few stars cast opposite McConaughey who manages to avoid being upstaged by his six-pack torso, rippling muscles, and unbelievable smile. She, in fact, comes fully equipped with sufficiient assets of her own.
McConaughey’s Tripp, in the beginning, is a bit too believable. He is a mother’s worst nightmare, a la many of the seven dwarfs: sleepy, grumpy, dopey, sneezy, and happy (about what his mother will do for him). At that point, his pretty unappealing; something I never expected to say about this obviously gorgeous actor who has twice been named “The Sexiest Man Alive.” Still, it was impossible to hide this man’s innate charm for long. Therefore, it is a good thing that his character does eventually get redeemed; allowing McConaughey to do exactly what he does best.
Kathy Bates, as is true in every film of hers that I have seen, manages to take what appears to be a simple part and breathe into it complexity and dynamics that make her character far more interesting to watch.
Bradshaw, an ex football player with only limited acting in his background, manages to hold his own with this experienced cast by allowing himself to go over-the-top in his characterization of a truly quirky, yet affectionate and totally lovable husband and father.
Some of the funniest moments in this film, however, are not provided by these talented stars but by an excellent supporting cast. Deschanel’s portrayal of Paula’s hilariously hostile roommate with an ever-dry wit keeps the audience in stitches. Bartha, as her adoring suitor, also manages to almost steal a scene or two of his own.
Directed by Tom Dey, the movie manages to be surprisingly nimble and emotionally honest, with particular respect to Sue, who’s ambivalent about wanting Tripp to leave home (for touching reasons you’ll have to watch the movie to unveil). The problem with the movie lies with a certain amount of implausibility, not so much in the plot line itself – – since I can contest that this kind of situation does exist – – but in how the situation is handled. Still, with an amazing cast, Dey manages to pull everything together and make this a truly fun film. I give it four out of five stars.
“Failure to Launch” is a Paramount Picture in association with Scott Rudin Productions. It is 97 minutes in length for partial nudity, sexual situations, and language.