Couples Retreat – funny but lukewarm, aimless, passable
Couples Retreat somehow pulled off what otherwise should have been a bad idea for a comedy. Going on a week long therapeutic retreat because a couple are considering divorce due to their inability to conceive is not usually considered funny. Dragging others into it who are not having similar difficulties and discovering that beneath the surface there is definitely tension is hackneyed, and of course it all gets resolved in the end. However, there were some genuinely funny moments in the film. I definitely enjoyed myself until the final act in which everything was resolved a bit too quickly.
There are certainly some things that stuck out, though:
- There were black people in this movie! None of the advertising reflected this. Appropriately, they were barely involved in the overall plot. When there was friendly bonding happening, they were mostly peripheral.
- Kristen Bell plays a married adult who is trying to conceive, which is a great step away from her usual young adult roles. However, she did not seem appropriate as Jason Bateman’s wife. I know that there is only an eleven year difference between them and she is even older than I am, but it looked like forty year-old Bateman shacked up with a teenager. It became all the more creepy when he was emotionally smothering her and passive-aggressively attacking her for not fulfilling her role as a child bearer.
- Their couple was quite entertaining in the beginning, though. They were the over analytical, highly organized couple who always presented ideas to their friends in the form of a Power Point presentation. It seemed as though they were being presented as the main characters, since the story revolved around them, but they were not…
- I generally do not care for Vince Vaughn. This is made all the worse by the fact that he often ends up in roles where he is not only the jerkass with a heart of gold but also the one jerkass who has his life more together than his foils. He played a married man with children in Old School, and his biggest shortcoming was that he was a little bored and wanted to revisit his glory days. In Wedding Crashers he was the more outspoken of the two leads when it came to not wanting to give up the game, but then he was the first one to settle down and even punched out a guy for his friend. In Couples Retreat it is revealed that despite some issues he has the strongest relationship with his wife.
- Vaughn’s children wanted them to go on the retreat to be happy, and they arranged their own babysitter in their grandfather. Not only was it cheesy, but it put Vaughn in the role of perfect father. Why do people like him? He looks like the slimy kind of guy who shows up at your party because he wants to get your sister drunk and sleep with her. And she is only 14. And he wants to tell you about it later. He looks like that kind of guy. (I am sure Vaughn may be a very good guy, but that is honestly the vibe I get from him.)
- The only black man in the group is also the only divorced member of the group. He does get back together with his ex-wife by the end of the film, but she admits that she slept around a lot. A lot! When spirit animals were awarded upon their completion of therapy, they received the bee because drones tend to go around and collect a lot of nectar but then return home. It is a little racist and offensive. There was a couple who admitted that they cheated on each other with multiple partners, but it was not brought up later with the implication that she was a dripping whore. No, their animal was the wolf who mates for life.
- Even if it is paradise, couples therapy cannot be effectively done in a week. Not only that, but the therapists were too directive and judgmental. One even said that Vaughn’s character is so focused on himself that he bulldozes over his wife’s feelings. An effective therapist usually avoids such loaded statements, especially in the first session!
- One of the ultimate failings of the movie is that it does not have a target audience. It tries to aim for the middle and be the perfect couples movie, but it misses. Guys put up with romcoms to have sex. This has been discussed before. Guys do not need a diatribe about what it takes to have a strong relationship. They definitely do not need yet another movie about how things are going wrong because of the guys. (Jason Bateman is smothering Kristen Bell. Vince Vaughn is indifferent to Malin Akerman (which should be impossible). Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis may both be cheating on each other, but from the beginning we see only Favreau trying to do wrong – and he only gets mad when he catches his wife almost doing something. Faizon Love only lost Tasha Smith because he did not chase after her.) Meanwhile, women usually do not care for movies where the four attractive female leads strip down to their underwear and the male leads have next to nothing to show. There is one guy who looks great, but he is involved in an overly long scene as yoga instructor in which he basically dry humps every one. Funny to guys, but women may not be as into it. Then there is a scene about Guitar Hero.
- The Guitar Hero scene was blatant and horrible product placement. It made some sense in the context of the story, since Vaughn’s character sold the game and was an expert at it. However, it was a video game duel that lasted for five long minutes and played incredibly straight as an epic showdown. Part of me hoped it was being played ironically, but it was nowhere close. The presence of the scene was an assault of reason, I think, and probably the most horrible thing the screenwriters ever had to include in their careers.
Despite the criticisms, there were some genuine laughs generated in the beginning of the movie. The story held up a good pace until the very forced, very rushed third act. Working the premise that they had must have been extremely tough, but it seems that they made some bad calls going through with it. But ultimately I can say that I enjoyed it. Would I recommend it? Not really. Would I watch it again? Sure. It just would have been better if they ditched the touchy feely Hollywood watered down happy ending crap and have a couple walk away scathed and scornful because the situation forced them to realize who they truly are. I might be expecting too much. Comedy rarely has chutzpah. I can settle for this because there are talented, funny, and beautiful players involved. It only gets a pass because of that.