Knowing what our target age demographic is here at Pajiba, I don’t want to step on any toes by shedding a little light on this serious topic, but for a lot of folks in their 20s and 30s — regardless of income, dating status, or abdominal structure — living with one’s parents has triggered a cultural shit-storm, both at the societal level and the more microcosmic family level. In fact, social scientists have even begun defining the ages between 18-34 as “transitional adulthood,” and note that from 1970 to 2000, the percentage of 24- to 34-year-olds living with parents or grandparents increased by 50 percent, and those numbers are on the rise. And while many see this trend as beneficial, allowing children to slowly and gradually drift into adult life, many more parents agree that — while it’s nice to have their offspring around the house again — the return to the nest following college provides an unpleasant jolt of disruption, wreaking havoc on plans to sell the family home and relocate to Tampa, where our nation’s senior citizens engage in martini benders and games of strip-bingo while awaiting the sweet, sweet release of death.
Unfortunately, the seriousness of the “return to home syndrome” (as I’ve termed it) is little discussed in our Hollywood-industrial complex, which prefers to focus on less serious matters, like genocide, forbidden love, race relations, and the brutal and untimely decapitations of attractive teenagers. Sure, January’s Adam-Sandler produced Grandma’s Boy touched upon the topic, but it barely grazed the surface, opting instead to concentrate on the situation’s comedic value (e.g., walking in on a 35-year-old man masturbating to a Barbie doll) rather than thoroughly exploring the more central (and, arguably more crucial) issue at play here, namely a living situation that forcibly pits parent vs. child in a metaphorical game of Jenga that threatens the very existence of traditional family values and the moral fabric of our society.
And yet, after what must have been years of studio squabbles and backbiting, as must always accompany serious material that rises to this level of controversy, Paramount Pictures has finally decided to take this issue head-on with their release of Failure to Launch. Ostensibly labeled by the studio’s marketing department as a romantic comedy (or, in critical parlance, “rom-com”), Failure to Launch explores with unyielding ferocity the true magnitude of this social dilemma: Should we let the successful, adult male remain in his childhood home or remove him under duress by hiring a “professional interventionist” (or, in Pretty Woman parlance, “high-class prostitute”) to wean him away from his parents with promises of lascivious dalliances with a leggy and provocative middle-aged gentlewoman? And really, who better to cast as the soon-to-be patriarchal emeritus in a movie of this weight than Terry Bradshaw, former NFL quarterback and resident doofus on Fox’s popular “NFL Sunday,” who is asked to play up his comic foibles for the good of the film’s narrative (or, in thespian parlance, “cashing a quick paycheck”).
In the film, the dashing Mathew McConaughey is Tripp, a debonair commitmentphobe whose claim to fame amongst his thirtysomething fraternity brethren is his ability to exploit his ripped abs (seriously, would it kill McConaughey to button his fucking shirt) and charming good looks for a quick lay with disposable women — pawns in his mischievous, deceitful scheme — who leave him the next morning upon learning that he still lives with his parents. Unfortunately, Tripp’s parents, played by the aforementioned Bradshaw and Kathy Bates (who herself has been known to exploit her own nudity in furtherance of a liaison with an unsuspecting member of the opposite sex) have recently discovered how the other half lives (see above w/r/t martinis and strip bingo) and see fit to rid themselves of the pox that Tripp has brought on their home.
Enter Paula, aforementioned interventionist, employed by Tripp’s parents to engage in an elaborate, multi-step ruse meant to ease Tripp out of his “transitional adulthood” and into full-blown independence, thus removing the threat of Tripp availing himself of his parent’s domicile to engage in one-night love affairs. As depicted by Sarah Jessica Parker — a woman who possesses all the beauty that syndication royalties can afford — Paula tackles her role with eager aplomb, in no way sullying the carefully orchestrated reputation she built playing a powerful female lead affronted by a male-centered sexual culture in the great HBO sitcom, “Sex and the City.” Certainly, she accepts money for her services, but she is all too willing to return the cash in the event that protocol is ethically breached, demonstrating the appropriate business acumen when faced with a situation posed by the premise of Failure to Launch.
And, indeed, as expected when dealing with a storyline of this gravity, complications do arise. Here the rub unfolds as Paula begins to develop feelings of a more romantic nature, calling into question the very purpose of her employ. As she attends paintball sessions, yacht picnics, and baseball games, her affections for Tripp harden, leading ultimately to an emotional crisis when her cover is blown by Tripp’s best pal (here played by Bradley Cooper, better known for spending an evening on the toilet in last summer’s Wedding Crashers).
Zooey Deschanel also appears as Paula’s boozy best friend and roommate; she is utilized to create a modicum of comic distraction, thwarting our attention ever-so-briefly from the grave issues at hand by — for instance — developing a hostile attitude toward a mocking bird that taunts her with Passeriformes sing-song. She later develops a budding relationship with one of Tripp’s other friends (Justin Bartha) when he shoots the bird with his Red Ryder and then — in a fit of guilt — attempts to give the avian mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
As expected when breaking new cinematic ground, director Tom Dey (Showtime, Shanghai Noon) does run into a few pitfalls, borrowing heavily from comedic conventions popularized by Ben Stiller (e.g., biting chipmunks, lizards, and dolphins, and food bits that shoot astray when handled with chop-sticks), but he otherwise maintains respect for the more important concerns of the movie, as illustrated by a scene introducing Bradshaw’s bare bottom after he converts Tripp’s former living space into “the naked room.” Indeed, Dey and his nimble cast (working from a script written by former television writers) stay true to the goals of his film, deftly demonstrating that living with one’s parents is more than a middle-aged crutch; it is, in fact, a lifestyle choice.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.Failure to Launch / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()