Tripp (Matthew McConaughey), 35, has never been able to leave the nest. Now, his desperate parents (Kathy Bates, Terry Bradshaw) have had enough. They hire the gorgeous and talented girl of his dreams (Sarah Jessica Parker) to get him to move out of the house. What they don’t bargain on this particular girl of his dreams falling head over heels in love with their son.
In the warm-and-fuzzy realm of romantic comedies, fresh concepts are quite rare. The whole idea of the genre is to comfort and tickle the audience gently, so the topics are deliberately kept as bland and safe as possible. With its cheeky and topical concept Failure to Launch seems to present a fertile ground for a good rom-com. It looks just edgy enough to be interesting, but still cuddly enough to please. Unfortunately the film never quite pulls it together and misses the mark more frequently than not.
This is certainly no fault of the cast. With both Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker on full flirt offensive, it’s hard not to be carried away by the sheer charisma of their banter. While they don’t have quite the smouldering chemistry of some famous rom-com couples (Richard Gere and Julia Roberts anyone?), they have more than enough to keep us interested.
But the real gem of the movie is Zooey Deschanel - of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galazy fame – as SJP’s acerbic best friend. Her gleefully off-kilter performance is as delightful as it is surprising and she is without a doubt the funniest thing in the film. Kathy Bates on the other hand is totally wasted in a role that gives her almost nothing to work. Of course she still does her best – as always – and she still manages to bring warmth and compassion to even this super flimsy part.
So where does the film fall down? Not in the technical aspects – the film looks and sounds as good as its sexy cast. Not even in direction, although Tom Dey (Shanghai Noon) often doesn’t get the best out of his cast. The faulty component that leaves this rom-com stranded on the launch pad is – you guessed it – the screenplay.
Penned by a pair of B-list TV writers - Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember – the screenplay has all the hallmarks of a good concept ruined by inept execution. Admittedly it starts well, keeping things light and fluffy with an edge of adult humour, but it quickly loses its way with a string of goofy slapstick set pieces involving McConaughey and a series of animals intent on biting him. It might be forgiven for the slapstick if it didn’t suddenly turn deadly serious and sentimental, a move guaranteed to make the audience feel betrayed.
So what’s the bottom line? Failure to Launch is worth watching – just – if only to see McConaughey, Parker and Deschanel in action. It’s definitely a good first date movie, and there are worse ways to pass two hours. You might want to wait for the DVD though and spend your money on a real romance like Tristan and Isolde.
- Alistair Fairweather
This quirky romantic comedy isn't half as charming as it wants to be, but Matthew McConaughey and Sara Jassica Parker still make for a pleasant ride.
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