Our growing obsession with unrealistic romantic expectations continues in Failure to Launch, a film by Tom Dey. Dey wraps his movie in a weird mix of romantic clichés, screwball animal attack comedy, and Terry Bradshaw nudity as if to distract his audience from the fact that basically, the female lead in his script is written as a whore. There’s something very wrong here.
But before introducing its high tone hooker, the movie starts as the story of a slacker. Real life slacker Matthew McConaughey plays Trip, a 35-year-old man who still lives at home with his parents. “It’ll take a stick of dynamite to get me out of my parents’ house,” he declares, and so his fed-up parents go looking for one. They find Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), a self-titled relationship expert who makes her living romancing men into growing up. Basically, she gets paid to make men fall in love with her, make out with her, and then move out of their parents’ house to be with her. Then she dumps them and moves on to the next client. Of course she never sleeps with any of them… unless of course one of them happens to be really really hot. I’m not sure how it works where you live, but where I come from we call that prostitution.
Somehow though, the word prostitute never comes up. Paula deceives, manipulates, fabricates, and flat out lies to Trip to get him dancing to her tune. He falls for it hook, line, and sinker. Maybe he’s even in love. Paula is using him to make a quick buck, but secretly she’s falling for him too. We are, apparently, supposed to be rooting for them to get together. But after Trip’s been utterly betrayed by this woman why the hell would anyone want him to be with her?
The answer is you don’t, and that’s a big part of why Failure to Launch doesn’t work. Both of the film’s main characters are unlikable tools. Paula is a prostitute in denial and Trip is a lazy no-account who gets whatever he wants, successfully drifting through life on the sweat of others. Actually, on second thought maybe I was rooting for them to be together. People this horrible deserve each other.
Luckily for Failure to Launch and anyone who happens to see it, the film’s supporting cast is everything its leads are not. If she’d been given a little more screen time, Zooey Deschanel could have run away with the entire movie. She plays Paula’s roommate Kit, a moody woman with a mockingbird problem. She mutters to herself and mocks the film as an aside, and the film’s script rewards her with a romantic subplot. Dey, realizing the movie’s main characters are waste, milks her little side story for everything it’s got. It works almost too well, since you’ll find yourself wishing the movie was about her instead of those other two screen hogging skanks.
Dey successfully counteracts Failure to Launch’s unlikable romantic leads by focusing more on ancillary characters like Zooey’s Kit or Trip’s frequently nude father Terry Bradshaw. Whenever those supporting cast members are on screen the movie’s good for a laugh, but they all seem as if they belong more in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie than in this mess. Equally ill-fitting is the movie’s occasional stop-down for strange, Caddyshack-like animal humor. Trip gets bit by chuckling critters… a lot. None of that really fits with the main story, but it’s also better than the main story and thank god for it being there. The movie is tolerable because of all those ill-fitting parts, so it’s kind of hard to criticize their presence even if dolphin attack humor isn’t a match with the film’s rom-com aspirations.
Maybe I’m giving Tom Dey too much credit, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he’s better than this. The movie’s a mediocre mish-mash of bad main characters and bad romance. You can’t blame the director if the script sucks. I guess you can’t really blame the actors either. It’s just a spectacularly bad premise they’ve been saddled with. Failure to Launch is a bizarre, mixed up mess, but one with good moments courtesy of a solid supporting cast. That’s enough to make it tolerable just don’t expect to walk out high on love, unless of course, you’re a big fan of paying for it.