Failure to Launch
It seems like only a few years ago the goal of every child was to turn 18 and move out of the home, striking out on their own. Young people would dream of their very own apartment completely lacking in parental control. Now, more and more adult children are staying with their parents. The financial benefits along with mom’s home cooking cement these people under their parent’s roof. What was one the empty nest syndrome, parents missing their kids has become a failure to launch. The film, ‘Failure to Launch’ considers an extreme case of this new phenomenon. Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) is a likeable enough guy but he does lack a certain degree of ambition. Although he is in his mid-thirties he still lives with his parents; Al (Terry Bradshaw) and Sue (Kathy Bates). The do love their son but at this stage in their lives they did imagine some time alone, far removed from the parental responsibilities of their youth. Al wants to turn Tripp’s room into a ‘naked room’ where he can kick back and relax in all his natural glory. Tripp has very little in the way of incentive to leave. After all he is getting free room and board and maid service compliments of a now begrudging mother. All the cleaning of his room is done while he is still in the shower. Sue carefully cares for his environment, cooks his favorite foods and generally makes their home too inviting for Tripp. Even when he brings home a young woman to spend the night his parents barely raise an eyebrow. The conquest du-jour on the hand may be a bit surprised to see he still lives with his parents but from Tripp’s perspective there are plenty more where she came from.
In our modern society whenever a problem like this becomes noticeable there is always someone to find a way to cash in on it. In this case it is Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) who has created a little niche business for herself getting these adult children to finally leave the parental nest. Paula has a regular check list of tried and true methods to pry the man out. First she gets to know what he likes. For Tripp it is the noble game of pinball. Then she shares a sad experience with him. For this stage of the plan she borrows a dog, tells Tripp it is hers and that she has to put the animal to sleep. Then, she gets the man to teach her something. Paula manages to have Tripp teach her to sail. The theory behind this is the man will become enamored of her and when she asks he will then move out. She then dumps him but by that time the parents are free. Paula does have certain ground rules consistent with a PG-13 flick; she never sleeps with the son of a client.
Even the friends of Tripp are caught in the usual romantic comedy surreal entanglements. His best friend, Ace (Justin Bartha), just happened to become the object of attention for Paula’s roommate the domineering Kit (Zooey Deschanel). This genre also demands a friend to intercede and show the couple that they really love each other. In this film the required character is in the form of Tripp’s computer nerd friend Demo (Bradley Cooper). Demo conspires to lock the two in a room so they can face their true feelings for one another. Demo seems to feel that this personal moment should be shared so he hides cameras in the room and broadcasts it to huge screens in a restaurant for the dining amusement of others.
The premise here is extremely thin but truthfully, many romantic comedies stretch things a bit on basic plot lines. There is potential for humor here that is never fully explored. Many parents out there are able to empathize with Al and Sue but there is a reduction to the absurd going on here. If the writers concentrated more on reaching the audience on an emotional level instead of being on a quest to be zany they film would have had a better chance at living up to its potential. For example, Tripp is a yacht salesman. While this goes to bolster his image as a man just drifting through life it doesn’t play well here. A few sales of the high end crafts would have enabled him to move out to a place he could be happy to take his dates. A man that sells yachts and drives a Porshe would also be prone to have a bachelor pad blessed by Hugh Hefner. The only rational reason he would still want to live at home is to avoid any commitment to the ladies he brings there. He can have a night of passion, let her see the parents and run from him. Admittedly I am viewing this as a parent of a twenty-something who has not yet left home. Another ‘zany’ choice is the naked room concept. I don’t think there are many older people out there that want to have a room to run around naked in. A home theater or a den I can understand but a naked room? There is also something odd about the pacing. The film’s dialogue seems stunted at times, as if the editor lost a few frames here and there. The flick does work as an amusing, light hearted piece that you can watch over pizza and beer with friends but it could have been a lot more.
The cast here is above the usual for this genre. Matthew McConaughey in many ways returns to his roots here. Tripp is a lot like his character David Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. David was unwilling to move on from high school, he gets older but the girls stay the same age. Tripp is just a more upscale version. He lives in the cocoon his parents provide protected from caring for life or becoming too deeply involved with a woman. McConaughley is such a likeable sort of guy that you can almost understand how he can get away with this. He also has a natural chemistry with his co-star Sarah Jessica Parker. She plays the cute card fully here. While on the surface she is the means of salvation for the parents she is the other side of the same coin as Tripp. She is also unable to commit to a real relationship. Only instead of using her parents to distance herself from men she has made it into a business. She gets to have men fail for her and then use the excuse of the job to dump them before she can become overly attached to them. Terry Bradshaw is funny just by showing up in this film. His portrayal of the somewhat dim Al is comic and enjoyable. One warning here, the shot of his bare bottom is not for the faint of heart. Kathy Bates is one of those actresses that can bring to life any character she takes on. She has a command of her craft in the heaviest drama to the lightest faire such as this. One ancillary actor here gives a notable performance, Zooey Deschanel. She has a natural comic timing that makes her role one worth watching.
Paramount brings this film to DVD with some nice touches. The technical specifications are excellent. The widescreen 1.85:1 video is clear with a natural, bright color palette. The contrast is realistic with an excellent demarcation between light and dark. The Dolby 5.1 audio provides a natural ambience while keeping the dialogue clear and understandable. For extras there is a featurette on the casting that was informative and shows how the producers pulled the right actors into the film. There are also little featurettes on dating in the new millennium and some back ground on the real failure to launch. Overall the film is worth a watch and will give a laugh.