Failure to Launch

Failure to Launch

2006, PG-13, 97 min. Directed by Tom Dey. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Terry Bradshaw, Kathy Bates.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., March 10, 2006

In naming their project, the filmmakers have tempted reviewers with a golden opportunity to unleash our cattiest puns (we love that), but this date movie is better than it has to be. The cast is quite good, although I regret to inform there’s a sight gag involving Bradshaw almost full frontal while feeding fish in a tank, and that’s inexcusable. Screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember have backgrounds in television, and the script is sitcom patter (“Deceptions are poisonous! Like margarine!”) with relentless alternation of swoony moments and quirky moments (because he defies the natural order by living with his parents at age 35, McConaughey is bitten frequently by animals). The film is dude-friendly by design, and while this approach invites cynicism (McConaughey gets two dudely chums in Bartha and Cooper, and we frequently cut to them mountain biking or playing paintball – as if a scientific formula ensures a balance of appeal for both genders), it’s actually quite a good idea for a light comedy about love and family relationships to be located more deliberately in the world of men. The movie doesn’t make cruel sport of adult children living at home; the characters are shaded, and the consummately professional Bates, as McConaughey’s mother, has a lovely and graceful moment of acknowledging her fears about marriage after retirement. That the movie takes her seriously proves it has heart, but its heroine is from hell. Paula (Parker) meets cute with the impossibly named Tripp (McConaughey) in a furniture store, but really she’s a ringer hired by Tripp’s parents (Bates and Bradshaw) to persuade Tripp to move out of their house. (That’s the premise, and in the worst romantic-comedy tradition, we’re expected to swallow that logic instead of quite reasonably expecting the parents to address their son directly. But since the audience is ostensibly all on a date, surely we won’t notice.) It’s rather an ugly setup, but we’re supposed to like Paula because she’s a “professional interventionist” and has a positive “Initial Personality Assessment” of Tripp. In reality Paula is a kind of nightmare woman from within the deepest fear center of the dude brain: massive dating agenda, manufactured drama, mercenary stake, really into her hair, buys special shoes for boating. This is a woman who fakes a dog’s death in order to keep you in line. Ostensibly Parker has the comedic heft to make such a tightly wound train wreck into a likable romantic heroine (say what you will about her, but Meg Ryan could do it), but the movie doesn’t really show this to us. The movie shows us a lot of Parker’s hair and her cute outfits. There’s no spark in the romance because people in romantic comedies are simply not allowed to be people anymore: they’re hair and outfits inside a premise. For this we will not blame the actors, who are all committed to what the movie asks of them. But the movie doesn’t ask enough of them. That’s why Deschanel, as the token oddball of the gang, runs off with the movie. It’s light and portable.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Tom Dey Films
Owen Wilson gives voice to the Great Dane of the old single-panel comic about a big, dumb dog.

Kimberley Jones, June 11, 2010

It's a double-edged sword: The collective charisma of Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, and Rene Russo is the only reason to slap down eight bucks ...

Kimberley Jones, March 22, 2002

More by Marrit Ingman
Wonder Stories
Wonder Stories

July 25, 2008

King Corn
The film’s light hand, appealing style, and simple exposition make it an eminently watchable inquiry into the politics of food, public health, and the reasons why corn has become an ingredient in virtually everything we eat.

Nov. 9, 2007


Failure to Launch, Tom Dey, Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Terry Bradshaw, Kathy Bates

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle