Title: Couples Retreat
Director: Peter Billingsley
Screenwriters: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Malin Akerman, Jon Favreau
There is a rarely acknowledged but fundamental disconnect involved in someone like me reviewing a movie like Couples Retreat. The disconnect is this: I have seen this movie five hundred times before, and the majority of the audience for it will not have done the same. This is an absolutely crucial difference in perspective, and the inspiration behind much film critic hate mail. Someone who sees ten movies a year and picks Couples Retreat for a night out this weekend, may find the movie tolerable and perhaps even enjoyable. Someone who has had his fill of generic, manufactured relationship comedies will likely cry uncle before a half hour is up.
If you read my writing with any regularity, you will know that I navel-gaze about this problem pretty consistently. What is my obligation here? I hated Couples Retreat; “cry uncle” is only slightly hyperbolic. I wanted to punch the movie in the face, and I wanted to leave. It would be dishonest for me to mince words. At the same time, I must acknowledge that this movie was not made for someone who has seen, oh, 85% of the many identical Hollywood offerings from the past decade — and that this is, in large part, the source of my irritation.
What inevitably saves me in cases like this is the following: even if you, dear intelligent reader, fall into Couples Retreat‘s target category of casual, inexperienced moviegoer, there is still no reason for you to see Couples Retreat. You have better, more fun, more rewarding options. I promise you.
There is no reason for you to see Couples Retreat even if you are fond of one or more members of its wonderful cast: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell and Kristin Davis. God knows I am fond of a few of those names, Jason Bateman in particular. They are stuck in a dead zone, and in the case of co-writers Vaughn and Favreau, a dead zone of their own creation. Aside from a few almost accidental Vaughn- and Bateman-isms, there is not an amusing moment in the entire 107-minute film — and no insight, or heart, or even genuine sweetness, either.
The set-up: a couple contemplating divorce (Bateman and Bell) drag their friends to a tropical couples-therapy retreat under the pretense of a relaxing vacation getaway. Two of the other couples are married: Dave and Ronnie (Vaughn and Akerman) are busy careerists struggling to squeeze in some downtime, while Joey and Lucy (Favreau and Davis) may or may not have some fidelity issues. Their friend Shane (Love) is going through a messy divorce, and is vacationing with his new 20-year old girlfriend (Kali Hawk). That they are obligated to attend new-agey relationship-building sessions with a rambling Frenchman (Jean Reno) at 6 am comes as an unpleasant surprise — but inevitably uncovers fissures in otherwise healthy-seeming partnerships.
I describe the plot with a certain amount of credulity but it is all, frankly, bullshit. None of the character couplings represent an honest attempt to portray a real relationship. The film exists for a series of schticky, inoffensively vulgar set pieces, such as Favreau attempting to get a “Korean massage” from an unsuspecting and grossed-out spa masseuse, or the women contorting themselves into awkward positions with a buff and extremely touchy-feely yoga instructor (Carlos Ponce). When the movie isn’t trying to push the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, it is hardly funnier, or less phony: one climax involves — wait for it — a Guitar Hero showdown, which of course comes after it is painstakingly established that Dave makes his living as a Guitar Hero salesman (?).
The plot plays out with the sort of cookie-cutter corporate wackiness you’d expect; the movie constantly demands emotional responses it hasn’t earned. Worse, it isn’t funny, mistaking humiliation and obnoxiousness for comedy. The message, ultimately, is that these people are happy in their marriages, a conclusion reached arbitrarily and accompanied by rehearsed-sounding speeches. And what else would it be? For all the charges of rampant liberalism, Hollywood loves the comfortable, conservative moral of Couples Retreat and the countless movies like it: if you’re married with children, you’ve got nothing to complain about, and if you’re not, then you’d better get on that. Couples Retreat marches toward this conclusion without a trace of generosity or wit.