Things I Learned From Movie X: Couples Retreat
By Edwin Davies
June 16, 2010
Vacations are brilliant, aren't they? It's fantastic to get away from it all for a day, a week, a month, however long you want. They allow you to forget the indignities of the mundane and enjoy a life of leisure, if only briefly. Yes, vacations are great, if they're yours. But other peoples' vacations? Not so much. Vicarious leisure is a facsimile of enjoyment that can't help but seem boring compared to actually being there. The disconnect between actually going on vacation and hearing about someone else's is why pretty much every bad sitcom (and a couple of the good ones) of the last two decades has used "watching someone's holiday slides" as a cheap and easy shorthand for "boring and tedious." But a film in which people go on vacation, with a narrative and everything, has to be much better, right? If it stars Chevy Chase, sometimes.
Sadly, Couples Retreat, the comedy hit from 2009 in which four couples travel to Hawaii so that one of them (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) can attend a program that might save their marriage, does not star Chevy Chase, and as such is a frightful bore of a film. Our eight protagonists bumble along through their respective crises until the film just sort of ends, with a quickie resolution that involves characters who hate each other reconciling for no real reason, a deus ex machina in which a character otherwise not seen in the rest of the film shows up to resolve one plot, and Jean Reno offers up some weird platitudes about animal spirits. But just because it's terrible, and it is, doesn't mean we can't learn anything from it.
Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau used to be so money they don't even know it.
In 1996, Jon Favreau wrote Swingers as a vehicle for himself and his friend, Vince Vaughn. The film was hip, cool and edgy, and even today stands as one of the funniest and most insightful films about male friendship and the ups-and-downs of being single. They were then able to parlay the success of that into respectable careers as actors and, in the case of Favreau, as the director of one of the biggest movie franchises currently going. Why then, would they choose to not only star in but write this broad, clumsy film that is utterly devoid of any insight or wit? Money, baby, money. Conventional wisdom has it that anyone who starts out being hip, cool and edgy will invariably chase the money and start doing the most toothless, middle-of-the-road tripe imaginable to pay for the lifestyle that being hip, edgy and cool afforded them. It happened to Steve Martin, it happened to Eddie Murphy, and now it's happened to Vaughn and Favreau. They've finally turned from young, vital swingers into flabby middle-managers, plodding listlessly through their days in order to collect a paycheck. A big paycheck, sure, but one they earn by doing as little as possible.
The best way to see attractive women in as few items of clothing as possible is to write a film based largely around that idea.
One of the central plots of the film revolves around the disintegration of Jon Favreau's marriage to Kristin Davis, both of whom appear selfish and awful on the outside, but this is only a mask to hide their bitter, hateful souls. Favreau repeatedly talks about how much he wants to cheat on his wife (even though she is being played by the attractive Sex and the City cast member) and spends the entire film ogling young, nubile bodies from afar, ultimately using the search for Faizon Love's girlfriend to run off and party with girls young enough to be his daughter. If this needs reiterating: Jon Favreau co-wrote the screenplay.
Elsewhere, Vaughn gets to be film-married to Malin Akerman, and in one scene Akerman, David, Kristen Bell and Kali Hawk all strip down to their underwear to be looked at by their male counterparts. (Admittedly, the men do the same but, with the exception of Faizon Love, they all wear considerably more than the women do.) Vaughn was one of the other screenwriters.