Failure to Launch combines so many different comedic elements that it's almost a series of short subjects welded together. From scene to scene the tone varies from tried-and-true romantic comedy to outsized physical slapstick, from a buddy picture to a chick flick, from sharply observed to sloppy and frittered away. Not surprisingly, the whole is a mess of styles and rhythms that should not work. The surprise is that it does—and very well. Failure to Launch may be a mess, but it's a delightful one, helped enormously by a great comic premise and its potent star wattage.
We are, after all, talking about the onscreen teaming of the Sexiest Man Alive and the Sex and the City Woman a/k/a Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker. Who wouldn't want to spend 90 minutes with these two fabulous physical specimens? For gay men, the promise of shirtless hunk McConaughey strutting around in a towel—prominently featured in the film's trailer—is reason enough to sit through the movie while the alternately sassy and sexy Parker has enough personality for two, not to mention her lauded fashion sense and iconic Best Gay Man Gal Pal status. An expert supporting cast, headed by Kathy Bates, Terry Bradshaw and Zooey Deschanel, helps seal the deal.
The premise is that though Trip ( McConaughey ) is a successful 33-year-old boat salesman who drives a Porsche and has a bachelor pad/sailboat at the ready, he has decided to live at home with his parents, Sue and Al ( Bates and Bradshaw ) . Instead of cramping his Casanova tendencies, it's given him a safety valve. Apparently, once he's ready to dump the comely beauty in question who has gotten too serious, he brings her home to meet Mom and Dad. Naturally, this is a deal breaker and Trip is free to find the next willing victim.
We meet his two best friends, environmentalist Demo ( Bradley Cooper ) and computer 'geek' Ace ( Justin Bartha ) , who both also live at home with their parents. All three of these sufferers of the Peter Pan syndrome feel no guilt about this, and none feels the need to move anytime soon. However, Sue, who makes Trip a Costco-sized breakfast every morning, does his laundry and cleans his room, and Al, who wants some alone time with 'mother,' are ready for their 'boy' to leave the nest once and for all. During a neighborhood barbeque—while comparing notes with friends suffering the same fate—they hear about a professional named Paula who describes this Adult Males Living At Home With Parents syndrome as 'Failure to Launch.' She promises to get Trip out of the house; Al and Sue give her the go ahead.
In a service economy in which one can pay someone to do just about anything for you, Paula's profession makes perfect sense. ( Don't be surprised to read about a real-life Paula soon after the movie's release. ) She has what she considers a foolproof method and soon Trip is, indeed, smitten. But then, following romantic comedy conventions, Paula finds herself bitten by the love bug herself and, naturally, complications ensue on the bumpy road to love. McConaughey and, especially, Parker have been down this road many times before and turn in their usual assured, expert performances and look great doing it.
There are subplots galore that don't particularly belong together ( hence, the uneven tone of the picture ) with the most satisfying and hilarious being the one involving Paula's roommate, the droll and acidic Kit ( Deschanel ) . Deschanel, with her crack timing and ability to deliver laughs by doing little more than crooking an eyebrow, is quickly becoming this generation's acrid Thelma Ritter/Eve Arden and deadpan Virginia O'Brien. Kit, it seems, is tortured nightly by a bird singing outside her window. Through ever-increasing plot contrivances, Kit is forced to date Ace, the supposed computer 'geek'—though, of course, it turns out that he's a megamillionaire and only in the movies would someone this cute be considered a geek. To ingratiate himself with the hesitant Kit, Ace offers to help with the bird problem and a scene follows that had me laughing so hard I was crying. It has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but elevates a bouncy comedy into inspired lunacy that reaches Mel Brooks territory—a great and unexpected feat.
Aside from the film's uneven tone, due to a committee of writers or perhaps the inexperience of director James Dey helming his third feature ( after two dismal comedies ) , the movie also fails to find much for Kathy Bates to do—a criminal shame for this gifted comedienne. It also assigns Terry Bradshaw the unfortunate overweight-white-male-nude-photographed-behind-strategically-placed-objects scene. Popularized by Mike Myers and Will Ferrell and utilized by them in seemingly all of their movies, I for one am ready to bid this trend adieu.
But these quibbles don't get in the way of this being a great date movie for audiences gay and straight. Unlike its groaner of a title, Failure to Launch is a sexy, funny romp and perhaps most strikingly, one made for adults and not teens.
I first saw Henry Corra's documentary, Same Sex America, last year and was blown away by the quiet dignity and determination of its participants. This insightful movie, which focuses on the fights ( both pro and con ) for the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts—the first state to do so—is getting its U.S. theatrical premiere this week at Facets. The film, not to be missed, opens Friday and plays for one week.
Corra focuses on assorted gay and lesbian couples eager to finally legalize their unions. However, he also shows us equally impassioned individuals opposed to the gay-marriage movement. Not all those against it who Corra shows us, wrong-headed as they are ( in my opinion, naturally ) , are the stereotypical Jesse Helms-spewing-hatred types either. In one example of the deep rift between the two sides, he presents the story of a lesbian activist confronting her parents who have worked the other side, trying to come to terms after a vote that goes against the liberals. That they can't seem to come to terms is bittersweet for daughter and parents and resonated well beyond the screening for me. Corra also finds individuals—a gay marriage lobbyist; a county registrar; the adorable and curious Vietnamese daughter of a gay couple; a devout Catholic mother—who make terrific, impassioned camera subjects that beautifully verbalize their views. This is a historic, highly entertaining and thought-provoking film from the battlefront of the issue—and it doesn't feel like cough syrup. Highly recommended. www.facets.org
Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com .
Sarah Jessica Parker: The WCT Interview
By Richard Knight, Jr.
When I talked with Sarah Jessica Parker, her latest romantic comedy, Failure to Launch, hadn't been screened for the Chicago movie critics so I was a tad nervous as I approached our interview. What would we talk about? But there's a reason why Parker, who's a delight in the wonderful Failure to Launch—in which she co-stars with Matthew McConaughey—was the secret weapon that made TV's Sex in the City such a gigantic hit. Her enormous audience rapport was immediately evident the moment we started talking. We spoke the afternoon of New York's recent tremendous snowstorm. Highlights from our wide-ranging conversation:
Windy City Times: And ... we're off and running! Hi from Chicago, where it's snowing today.
Sarah Jessica Parker: It is here, too. The city is now disappearing before our eyes.
WCT: So that's the first thing we have in common.
SJP ( Giggles )
WCT: OK, let's jump right to the movie. You've made so many great romantic comedies—like a zillion? What stands out about Failure to Launch? What separates it from the herd?
SJP: Well, it's not so much what separated it from the herd but rather where it came in my life at the time. I was just getting ready to start The Family Stone and I knew I was going to do Spinning Into Butter after Failure to Launch and it seemed like a great Chapter Two of my trilogy that I've spent the last year doing. I loved that there was this big, lush romantic comedy that was for adult actors and those are few and far between, really. That and it was a very decadent, generous schedule and there were a lot of ingredients that I really liked.
WCT: So what's to resist, right? OK ... for the 25th time today—what was it like working with the Sexiest Man Alive?
SJP: Well, first of all at the time we were shooting he had not quite been appointed that yet but we didn't need a magazine to tell us that, now did we?
WCT: Well my husband and I think that you're married to the cutest man alive.
SJP ( melts ) Ooooh, thank you, I agree! I concur. I agree!
WCT: So now you've got the cutest AND the sexiest!
SJP: That's right, I agree—I've had 'em all!
WCT: So was he great to work with?
SJP: Yeah, he was really fun. He was really easy—loved the camera, the camera loved him, he's very comfortable and it was very pleasant. Very easy-breezy.
WCT: Did you know him before you started shooting?
SJP: I knew a little bit because he did Sex and the City for a couple of days once.
WCT: Oh, I guess I missed those episodes.
SJP: Yeah, when Carrie goes to California she's supposed to interview him or have a meeting with him or something. I can't remember the circumstances but he had been very generous and very brave because he played kind of a cliché of an overindulged movie star and it's a pretty hilarious performance. So I met him on that—it was a couple of days work, I think. So I knew him a little tiny bit.
WCT: And then, you worked with Kathy Bates. I kinda worship her in every single thing that she does. How was that?
SJP: It was great—I mean I barely had any time with her at all but it was wonderful to be around her. You know, she's the real deal.
WCT: Is this a great date movie? You have to help me because you know they haven't screened it for us in Chicago yet.
SJP: I think it is—it's going to appeal to a lot of people. It's not a chick movie; it's not a guy's movie. It's a wonderfully silly romantic comedy that's got something in it for everybody.
WCT: I hear it's kind of a guy date movie.
SJP: Yeah, I think it will appeal to a lot of guys. I think men really like Matthew McConaughey but so do women.
WCT: And gay men as well.
SJP: Exactly. Exactly.
WCT: You worked with Thomas Bezucha, the director-writer of Big Eden, my favorite 'gay' movie, and I loved The Family Stone so much so I'm going to jump a little bit if that's OK.
SJP: That's fine, of course.
WCT: In light of the fact that you're a renowned friend of the gay community, was it hard to do that scene at the dinner table where you had to face down Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson with those questions about nature versus nurture about their gay son?
SJP: It was as an actor but I'll tell you what; I hope this is received in the spirit in which it's meant to be. I think if my character, Meredith, had been anybody else with better people skills, she could have asked those questions and it wouldn't have been so provocative because I've been around thinking, civilized, decent, tolerate, loving people who talk about nature versus nurture and what does that mean and what is it like to be two men raising a son or a daughter and what are your concerns and environment—and I think it's a really interesting conversation. It's just that she doesn't know how to ask questions.
WCT: And you can see clearly that she doesn't feel that way. You're right; she doesn't seem to have the language to express it. In a way, that's when my heart went out to her.
SJP: If Claire Danes's character had asked those questions it would've been perfectly acceptable. It's just that she had already dug this ridiculously deep hole for herself and she doesn't have the people skills nor does she have the ability to feel the room. You know?
WCT: Yeah, yeah.
SJP: But I do think that's an interesting conversation to have. I've had it many, many times with people but she doesn't know how to extricate herself when things look no longer appealing.
WCT: So you know, Entourage has been called the straight version of Sex in the City, The L Word is the lesbian version and Queer as Folk is the gay version, OK ... when are you gonna strap back on those Manolo Blahniks?
SJP: ( she's laughing hard )
WCT: What happened to our Sex in the City movie?
SJP: I know, I know. Oh, I really did want to make that movie.
WCT ( commiserating ) : Ooooh, this sounds like it's going to be bad.
SJP: It was a beautiful, funny script that Michael Patrick had written and, you know, three of us wanted to do it and you have to respect people for not wanting to and for moving on. It was a hard pill to swallow. But it feels like the moment has passed for it. The momentum was so critical to make that movie then and when we heard we couldn't make it ... that Kim didn't want to ... the sets were struck and they were sold or put in a dumpster and it's all gone.
WCT ( sighing ) OK, OK, I guess I'll move on, too.
SJP: But it will live forever in DVDs.
WCT: And I need to go check out those Matthew McConaughey episodes.
SJP: That's right!
WCT: You worked with gay icon Bette Midler on two movies: Hocus Pocus and The First Wives Club. Any chance that she's going to pop up in Slammer, the movie musical set in the women's prison you're doing that I'm dying for!?
SJP: Hmmm, we'll see. I'm not sure what's happening with Slammer and when and if we're going to get going on it but God, wouldn't she be fantastic? ( Turns into a fan for a moment ) I LOVE her so much. She's a friend now, which is really nice. A real friend, which is fantastic.
WCT: Let's get back to the new movie for a second. What's in it for my gay friends?
SJP ( laughs ) : Tell them that Matthew McConaughey takes his shirt off and swims around in the ocean. Tell all your gay friends that. That's what I'm telling all my straight friends.
WCT: But what about you? Are we going to love you in this movie?
SJP: You're going to freak out when you see me—I am so fantastic in this movie! I'm just kidding—I don't know if you're going to love me in this movie but if you don't love me, you'll love Matthew.
WCT: But is she different from Meredith in The Family Stone? I ask that because you know it wasn't easy to dislike a Sarah Jessica Parker character.
SJP: ( My character ) Paula really enjoys her life, she's not particularly concerned what other people think of her. She's very comfortable, kinda delighted by romance and silliness. She's a nice one again.
WCT: Is the character sort of like you?
SJP: Not at all like me, actually. When you see it ... she's very different than I am. She's a much lighter touch than me.
WCT: OK. So tell me about this next film—the third part of the Sarah Jessica Parker trilogy—Spinning Into Butter. It's a dramatic piece, isn't it?
SJP: Yes, it's based on the play that was on Broadway about five years ago that Rebecca Gilman wrote and she's adapted it for the screen.
WCT: Oh, right, right!
SJP: And she's a Chicagoan.
WCT: Of course, yes. Why don't you come here and do a play at Steppenwolf or Lookingglass?
SJP: I would love to but I probably wouldn't have the nerve.
WCT: So you're shooting Spinning Into Butter now?
SJP: No, I'm taking some time off until September when we start and taking care of my son.
WCT: How old is he?
SJP: James is three and some months.
WCT: Oh my God. How do you do it?
SJP: Probably like every other working mother, probably very badly but I try.
WCT: So when James is grown and you and Matthew have reached your emeritus years, which I know are many, many, many moons down the road—are you going to do a club act like Steve and Eydie and call it When Sari Met Mattie?
SJP ( Laughing hard ) Oh God, that's hilarious! Gosh, I don't know, we'll have to see what our mature years bring. We'll have to see if anybody's interested.
WCT: Well, you're both from the stage. You have so many things that you could do together.
SJP: Oh God, I don't know. We'll see 20 years from now who's interested in us.
WCT: So, in the meantime, when are you two going to do something other than the club act?
SJP: You know, we have no plans to do anything in the near future but you will be the first to know.
WCT: Call me immediately!
SJP: I will call you immediately. Thank you so much. Be well.
WCT: I adore you Sarah Jessica Parker. I think you're going to do OK.