Sometimes the title of a film can be quite telling. Before you even step foot in the theater you know what to expect. Failure to Launch is one of those films, and as the title indicates, that's not a good thing.
Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) suffers from a "failure to launch." No, not that kind. He's 35 years old (going on 16) and still lives at home. With parents Al and Sue (Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates) willingly catering to his every whim, Tripp has no incentive to launch his life. They cook for him, clean his room, and wash his clothes. Tripp lives rent-free, drives a shiny new Porsche, and has a great job where he captains sailboats. It sounds pretty rough. Article continues below
The one thing Tripp doesn't have is romance. But before you feel sorry for him (though I'm not sure how you could), Tripp's lack of love is entirely his choice. When his girlfriends get too close, Tripp takes them home to meet the parents. Understandably, the fact that he still lives with them scares most women away. Still, his parents think that once he meets the right girl, he’ll finally leave the nest. Al and Sue decide to hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), a woman who guarantees that once Tripp falls for her, he'll be out looking for a place of his own.
Paula's deceitful plan is scripted into numerous sequential steps. First, Al and Sue must make things more difficult at home -- no more cleaning, laundry, or dinner. Next, Tripp must help Paula through a fake emotional crisis -- her dog dies. Third, she meets his fellow parents'-house-living friends Ace and Demo (Justin Bartha and Bradley Cooper) – they play paintball together. Lastly, Tripp needs to teach Paula something -- they go sailing. Just as everything seems to be falling into place, disaster strikes.
Yet, Launch's carnage begins long before Paula's strategy goes south. In fact, much of the film's problems stem from a host of central character flaws that drastically undermine the story. The first issue: casting. McConaughey is completely miscast in the title role. Not for one second is he believable as a needy homebody who is totally dependant on his parents. The problem is that McConaughey has always played the sexy, independent every-man capable of getting anything he wants. It's kind of like Jim Carrey trying to play a dead serious role; it just doesn't work.
The anemic script never takes the time to develop the other characters either. Zooey Deschanel is underutilized as Paula's dysfunctional roommate Kit. She spends over half the film floating in and out of scenes where she clearly doesn't belong. Deschanel is fixed up in an absurd subplot about a squawking mockingbird solely to justify her existence until she is actually needed much later in the film. Even once she's used, she gets relegated to another useless storyline. While Parker is believable as Paula, her character is severely flawed as well. The film's major turning point stems from a critical mistake she makes that someone with her job experience just wouldn't do.
The only characters we're actually able to connect with are Al and Sue. And that's only because the ultra thin script can support their limited roles.
In the end, after all of the melodrama is painfully resolved and we’ve endured a visit to a naked Bradshaw's room, the film's central theme still goes unanswered: Does Tripp ever move out of his parent's house? By that time, we could really care less. It's the film's final failure to launch. Abort! Abort!