met couples like this before: longtime marrieds approaching 40 and
facing stress from fertility problems, workaholism, lack of
communication or just flat-out losing the spark and giving up hope. In
fact, you might have lived through these problems yourself.
in the new movie Couples Retreat, which not only co-stars but is
co-written by real-life best friends Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers)
and Jon Favreau (a popular character actor who also directed Iron
Man), these average middle-class American problems are given hilarious
voice through vivid performances and rapid-fire dialogue. Or more
accurately, the movie shines when it focuses on those aspects of life
in the first half of the film, while disappointingly falling off a
cliff for much of the unfocused second half. Yet just like a real-life
marriage that lasts, the ups outnumber the downs enough to make this a
satisfying if not spectacular night at the movies.
Retreat kicks off with uptight couple Jason (Jason Bateman) and
Cynthia (Kristen Bell of Forgetting Sarah Marshall) begging their
other friends—workaholic Dave (Vaughn) and his neglected wife Ronnie
(Malin Akerman of the underrated remake of The Heartbreak Kid), and
high school sweethearts-turned-bored middle-agers Joey (Favreau) and
Lucy (Kristin Davis of Sex and the City), and just-separated Shane
(Faizon Love) and his ridiculously young new girlfriend Trudy
(scene-stealing Kali Hawk)—to join them on a retreat to the Club
Med-style resort of Eden. If they can get a group of four couples
together, they can all go half-price— which sounds great to the three
seemingly healthy couples, as long as they're assured they won't have
to go through couples counseling.
so they arrive in what seems like paradise, and of course, everyone is
subjected to counseling from the get-go. It turns out that Eden is no
mere resort, but strictly follows a program by Marcel (Jean Reno) that
forces couples to get deep with each other in addition to following
regimented diet, sleep and yoga regimens. And this unexpected rigor
sets the couples off, opening up about unresolved issues each never
knew the other had.
the hilarious team of Vaughn and Favreau firing on all cylinders again
after their cult-classic teamings in Swingers and Made, the early
stretches at the resort are filled with hilariously sarcastic dialogue
that takes well-placed swipes at the sappy, New Age-y relationship
advice dispensed far too often in our culture. Seeing these guys fight
for their right to be guys while their wives awaken to the fact they
have their own reasons to complain rather than simply accept their
husbands' bad habits and passive neglect makes for a sharp take on
also a hilarious-but-offensive sequence in which the resort's yoga
instructor (the brilliant Carlos Ponce) guides the couples—but
especially the ladies—through a series of shockingly inappropriate
positions and thrusts that offers some of the funniest film moments of
the year. But when Trudy disappears from the married part of the
resort, apparently relocating to the singles part of the island to get
her freak on with her own age group, the couples all have to come
together to sneak her back onto their part of the resort or face early
expulsion. Here, we're promised a series of comical misadventures, but
instead the film strangely pulls its punches and winds up devolving
into a series of pat resolutions.
his star turns in a pair of slipshod Christmas comedies (the bizarre Fred Claus and the cliched yet funny Four Christmases) it's clear
that Vaughn's trying to steer himself back on course with Retreat.
Not only did he co-write it with Favreau, but as producer he's
sprinkled the film with his patented fast patter and hired another
lifelong friend, former child actor Peter Billingsley (the immortal
Ralphie from A Christmas Story) as director. Vaughn also has the
class to depict his middle-class, middle-aged Middle Americans with
respect and a fundamental sense that family and solid relationships are
what’s most important in life.
other words, the success or failure of Couples Retreat rests squarely
on Vaughn's shoulders. He's a steady and reliable purveyor of comedy,
but rarely makes a stretch in his acting persona. How much you like the
film will largely depend on how much you like your comedy served up: if
you like familiar comfort food, you'll be just fine. But if you want
something with a truly fresh flavor, you might be disappointed.
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