Judge Dennis Prince no longer lives with his parents although he does wear adult-sized fleece jammies that have those little feety things—chicks dig 'em.
A child is a parent's greatest joy…unless, it seems, the child won't leave the house?
In a turnabout on the whole "dude, you still live with your parents?" embarrassment, Failure to Launch embraces the stay-at-home man, that is, the man that stays at his parent's home. It's an unchallenging romantic comedy that has more to it than you might expect yet, while it seemed poised to leap into a truly interesting context, it ultimately chickened out and scurried back to the comfort of its feather-lined formulaic approach.
Too bad—there's a lot of untapped potential here. It's as if the script was afraid to grow up. Go figure.
Facts of the Case
Tripp (Matthew McConaughey, Dazed and Confused) is a 35-year-old boat broker who sports a rich tan, drives a classic Porsche, and lives in a stately home—his parent's home, that is. Life has been good to Tripp, living in the same upstairs bedroom since age 3, and he doesn't seem inclined to change a thing about that. In fact, it becomes his oft-employed ripcord whenever a tryst looks as if it might get serious—he just reveals that he's still living at home. And while this all works well for Tripp, his Mom and Dad (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw), have different ideas of how their retirement years will play out. But Tripp isn't an oddity—he hangs out with similarly situated buddies Ace (Justin Bartha) and Demo (Bradley Cooper) to form a trio of happily coop-bound men who find plenty of benefit in remaining under Mom and Dad's roof. But, Tripp's folks determine to hire an adjustment specialist, Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), who successfully guides men like Tripp out of the homestead by establishing a false relationship with such fellows to the point they willfully depart the parental nest. The trouble is, Paula soon finds out she's establishing real feelings for Tripp while Tripp's buddies find out who Paula really is and what she's doing to their friend.
Wow—this is supposed to be a wacky sort of comedy but it's really an unabashed demonstration of heinous deceit and personal destruction. McConaughey exudes that unmistakable "cool" when he first charms Paula in a furniture store (a la Wooderson) and we believe there's an interesting story here. When it's soon revealed that Paula was hired to fall in love with and lure away Tripp, then we become angered that such manipulation is being unleashed on a very likable guy. Yes, he lives at home with his parents yet the relationship he enjoys with them is healthy and uplifting (especially in this time of familial dysfunction littering the tabloid talk shows). And, as the film goes on, Tripp is actually serving as an emotional bridge for his mother, she who fears the "empty nest" syndrome if and when her son finally vacates his upstairs bedroom. Frankly, then, the set up of the picture is intriguing, especially when we learn Tripp and his two homebound buddies aren't maladjusted slackers; they've simply found a different way to live life and don't seem to be having significant troubles maintaining jobs and healthy outside interests. And then along comes Paula.
Sarah Jessica Parker navigates her way into the proceedings and sets about to mimic and mirror everything that appeals to Tripp, this being her method of quickly bonding with her "assignments" in order to establish the faux relationship. With Tripp, she gloms onto his love of sailing and sparks his suave style. She then plans an emotional crisis—here, the euthanizing of a beloved pet!—by which Tripp should establish a personal commitment to her. Later, when Tripp becomes convinced he'll fall in love with and want to seriously pursue a steady relationship with her outside of his parents' home, presumably Paula will declare her work done, collect payment from the parents for services rendered, and everything will be good, right?
How utterly insensitive and criminally irresponsible is this premise?
Paula blithely proclaims most adult men who don't leave their parents' home lack a sense of self-esteem. Her tactic, then, is to engage in a mock relationship through which the subject male will develop requisite esteem to fly on his own. The unexplored element of this theory is that which might question what happens to the male's esteem after Paula dumps the duped fellow. Suddenly, we think about the vicious black widow spider, that which lures a male, mates with it, then kills and eats it after the procreative goal has been achieved.
Ah, but this is a comedy and it shouldn't be taken so seriously, right? Perhaps, and as a comedy it only partially works. That is, it has some laughs but they're the sort that seem like leftovers from Meet the Parents or There's Something About Mary—zany antics that involve out-of-place slapstick, usually involving a chipmunk, a dolphin, or a mocking bird. That sort of comedy, however, serves to absolutely mock the gravity of the story's aforementioned premise and, even if it hadn't, seems out of character to the flow of this purported romantic comedy. In the end, it comes off as a schizophrenic exercise that launches but crashes under the weight of its own mean-mindedness.
As for the HD DVD presentation, the 1080p / VC-1 encoded transfer looks fine but never reaches the level of "wow" that is expected from the high-definition format. Detail levels are certainly raised above a Standard Definition presentation yet they never reach the point of providing consistent dimensionality to the image. Color looks good and black levels are smooth and well managed without noticeable black crush. The source material is pristine and never shows noticeable degradation. It's conceivable, then, that the original production design is to blame for the lack of pop in this presentation. The audio fares better with the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround mix offering an expansive soundstage that utilizes channel imaging smoothly and convincingly, especially during the "wacky comedy" sequences during the bike trail incident. The musical cues are well presented although I'd prefer an original version of Herb Alpert's "This Guy's In Love" rather than a modern day whitewash.
There are plenty of extras on this HD DVD, all of which were previously found on the DVD release. These include an 11-minute EPK piece, Casting Off: The Making of 'Failure to Launch', a useless 11-minute pseudo-analytic piece, The 'Failure to Launch' Phenomenon, a better interview piece is the 13-minute Unscripted where McConaughey and Bradshaw yak for Moviefone, a pointless 6-minute Dating in the New Millennium commercial, and a 6-minute promo piece, The 'Failure to Launch' Contest. An original theatrical trailer wraps up the largely tepid collection of extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The most interesting aspect of this film is the conflict that Matthew McConaughey presents, not to the plot but, rather, to the entire production. As previously indicated, he's a very likable fellow—he makes himself regularly available as a sort of Big Brother mentor to his "nephew"—and he seems to refrain from being judgmental of others. McConaughey doesn't stray too far from Wooderson of Dazed and Confused and that's just fine. But, through his well-delivered performance, we can only become irked that the story would proceed as it does, seeking to emotionally exploit this great guy. McConaughey's performance makes the film very watchable, but he is the picture's only merit. Terry Bradshaw likewise turns in a good performance, very natural if not too much so, the former football great bravely bearing his backfield and daring to reveal his longest yard.
All told, Failure to Launch exhibits serious issues of understanding and acceptance of those "losers" it intends to administer. It clearly lacks the insight of the somewhat similarly themed The 40-Year-Old Virgin, exposing itself as being outwardly disdainful toward its likable male characters. Surprisingly, the screenplay was not written by spiteful females but, rather, by two men, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember. At this point, we can only wonder if these are two callous creeps or stay-at-home adults themselves.
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