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How you respond to Failure to Launch depends on a number of factors: Your mood at the time of theater entry. Your general disposition toward the “chick flick” genre. Your attraction to a) Sarah Jessica Parker, b) Matthew McConaughey, or c) both. Your ability to withstand the shock (but not awe) of seeing Terry Bradshaw bare ass naked.
Should all these factors align in a positive way, you just might enjoy yourself at Failure to Launch, an innocuous modern-day screwball comedy. If, however, any fall into a negative realm, you might be better off at something like The Hills Have Eyes.
McConaughey, pumped up, oiled up, sexy-ed up, plays Trip, a 35-year-old yacht salesman who still lives at home with his folks, played with sweet realism by Bradshaw and Kathy Bates. Trip has trouble committing to a relationship. Whenever a woman gets too close, he brings her home for an overnight stay, knowing full well her horrified response when she learns he still resides with mommy and daddy.
Bound for romance: McConaughey and Parker
Enter Paula (Parker), a charming female specimen hired by the parents of still-nesting, emotionally stunted adult men (according to this movie, there are more of them out there than you might think) to get them out of the coop and flying headlong into a 35-year mortgage all their own. The mechanics of Paula’s work seem a tad unclear (she romances but never has sex with her “clients”) and possibly a little mean: If she gets these guys to fall for her to the point they’re willing to move in with her, what happens in the aftermath, when she abruptly breaks up with them? Wouldn’t they be devastated and immediately run back home for a little parental comfort? It’s a pretty serious flaw, one the movie never addresses. But then, Failure to Launch is not about Paula’s work, it’s about her falling for Trip, hard, fast, unavoidably.
The romantic path seems effortless enough — until, that is, Trip learns of Paula’s deception. Then we have the requisite girl loses boy, parents and friends intervene, boy and girl realize they were meant for one another, yadda, yadda, yadda, all is well in the romantic comedy universe.
Director Tom Dey has a good handle on pacing — the movie doesn’t have a scene that feels out of place or wasted — and the stars play out their antics with Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn aplomb. And there’s enough goofy business on the side involving Paula’s sardonic roommate, Kit (martini dry Zooey Deschanel), whose efforts to still a noisy mockingbird keep the humor balloon aloft throughout.
What Failure to Launch ultimately lacks is originality. There’s nothing strikingly different about the plot path — you can see the ending coming even before you’ve left home for the theater. And while much of the film’s enjoyment is, I suppose, expecting the expected to happen, as expected, it would have been nice if a little screenwriting effort had been put into the final act. The screwball factor never ramps up into high gear and Launch fails to truly take off.
The leads are terrific. Parker finally breaks free of her Sex and the City shackles, revealing a bubbly fresh, neurosis-free side. Watching her, you can’t help but think, “Gee, that Matthew Broderick is a lucky guy,” before coming to your senses and realizing, as a gay man, it’s Broderick you’d rather be watching.
Actually, the other Matthew — McConaughey — is extremely watchable. He’s an easy-on-the-eyes, laid back Dreamsicle. Perhaps sensing that McConaughey’s Ultra-Brite smile and two-day-old facial scruff aren’t enough, director Dey has his star go shirtless as often as possible, revealing a side of torso beefcake that serves as an instant infusion of heat. (You can sense the temperature rise in the theater, as every straight woman and gay man in attendance undergoes a hot flash.)
The temperature is cooled down considerably by the sight of Bradshaw in the buff. It’s more of Terry than you’d ever want to see, trust me. But at least it gets a laugh — and when’s the last time the tightly clenched buttcheeks of a former pro football star tickled your funnybone?
Don’t answer that.
The supporting cast includes Bates (who brings a serene groundedness to everything she does), the wonderful Deschanel, and a swoon-worthy Bradley Cooper. Scene-stealing Justin Bartha, as a geeky pal of Trip’s who also lives at home, meets up with that aforementioned mockingbird in a bit that’s as riotously funny as it is supremely inventive. More moments like this might have helped Failure to Launch earn the right to be called a new American comedy classic.
So, while it doesn’t reach new comic heights, Failure to Launch goes just high enough to make us feel a little dizzy, a tad lightheaded and occasionally giddy. It doesn’t win your full heart, but it manages to snag the left ventricle.
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