Failure to Launch
“I have fun, they have fun,” drawls Trip (Matthew McConaughey) to his best buds over a margarita-slurred lunch. He’s justifying why, despite plenty hookups over the past decade, he’s happy to stay single. At this point, he’s got the art of evasion worked down to a science. If his newest conquest gives him “the look” (you know, the one implying a ring is forthcoming), he’s got an ace in the hole—all he has to do is bring her home so she can discover he’s still living with his parents. Not that they mind, either, or why else would Mom (Kathy Bates) still fold his undies and cook him a golden stack of buttermilk pancakes every morning before he speeds off in his zippy little sports car to work? “Maybe he just hasn’t met the right girl,” the newly empty-nester neighbors say, with a wink that implies a solution can be bought.
Cue Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), a vision in tastefully clingy sundress and caramel hair, breezily bringing a tray full of lattes to the guys at the swanky furniture store. And what do you know, Trip and his parents just happen to be test-driving recliners at the same time. As Trip chats up this serendipitous new quarry, little does he know Paula, a “professional motivator,” was hired by his parents to simulate a romantic relationship—complete with meeting the friends, teaching her something, and helping her weather an emotional crisis—to spark his desire to move out.
Shot in Baltimore with prominent views of the skyline, Annapolis boatyards, and a scene of picking crabs—goddammit, could someone remove the corn bread and corn on the cob from the table? There’s $50 for the first West Coast production designer to figure out that “eating crabs” means just eating crabs—Failure to Launch at some earlier, embryonic stage of its script probably had teeth too jagged for the confines of quirky-lite romantic comedy. Hints of its prenatal serration can be seen in Paula’s ray-of-gloom roommate (Zooey Deschanel), who can’t understand why her doomsday monotone isn’t convincing a gun salesman to sell her a shotgun and only one bullet. She just wants to shoot the damn bird making the racket outside her window, and instead opts to romance Trip’s dot-com geek friend (Justin Bartha) for his BB gun. Their truncated courtship is more interesting than the goings-on of the fairly vanilla Trip and Paula. Failure is a slightly tart variation on boy meets girl, but you can’t help wishing it hadn’t shied from its caustic gifts to become, like What About Bob? or Grosse Pointe Blank, a multiplex crowd-pleaser with a bitter nugget at the core.