Somehow, against all odds, there is still a lot to be said about the complications of romantic love. That shouldn’t really be the case. So much has already been said about it! It’s a topic that people have been talking about forever, and most things have been said over and over and over to death. And yet, here we are, in the year 2010, as hungry as ever for a discussion of what it all MEANS. Romantic relationships form a perfect venn diagram between the universal and the deeply personal. Everything about them is so well-worn, so fully discovered, and yet the minutiae is so deeply subjective that a million years later everyone still experiences everything for the first time. That’s what gives them the confidence to think they actually have something to add to the conversation. “But this happened to me!” And the situation of romantic love/desire/dissolution/etc is so overwhelming and bizarrely lonely even in the heady thick of it that the insatiable need for someone to relieve you of the burden of having to muddle through makes the potential audience for new product almost infinite. “If that happened to you what does it mean for me?! And also: HELP ME!” Of course, in the end, everyone is eventually left alone to stew with their Human Emotions, which continue, despite the advances in CGI technology and smartphones, to be mostly impervious to the influence of “art.” Which leaves us still hungry for more. And thus the cycle continues. The same poop back and forth forever.
Of course, Couples Retreat has nothing to do with any of that. It’s just a fucking paid vacation for Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau.
Couples Retreat is about four couples in varying stages of marriage and divorce. There’s Vince Vaughn and Malin Ackerman, who seem pretty happily married, but perhaps a little complacent. Then there is Faizon Love, whose wife left him, and who is buying motorcycles and dating 20 year olds. Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis got married right after high school because of a pregnancy, and are just counting down the days until their daughter moves away to college so that they can break up. And then there is Jason Bateman and his completely improbable wife Kristen Bell (nope), who interrupt a child’s birthday party to tell everyone that they are considering getting divorced but want to make one last effort to keep things together by going on a tropical vacation to a resort called Eden. The thing is, they can’t afford to go on their own, but they’ve found a good group rate and want EVERYONE TO COME WITH THEM. Sure. Normal friend stuff. You know how your friends are always demanding that you drop everything and accompany them on a last minute tropical vacation in order to help them save their marriage? Anyway, everyone goes, obviously, only to realize they got hoodwinked! This isn’t a tropical paradise, it’s a tropical HELLIDISE! You see, unbeknownst to everyone, they have all signed on to a strictly scheduled regimen of daily therapy and yoga. What?! But what about BOOGIE BOARDING?! What follows is about 45 minutes of the laziest therapy and yoga jokes the world has ever seen (and that is saying something, because the world was built on lazy therapy and yoga jokes). Eventually, it really looks like everyone hates each other and all the relationships are falling apart. Then, all of a sudden, they don’t. In fact, everyone’s marriage is now stronger than ever. (To give you a sense of just how awesome things work out for everyone, Faizon Love’s ex-wife, who is not even in the movie for the first hour and a half, shows up OUT OF NOWHERE at a dance party on the island, and asks him to take her back. Marriage is compromise, indeed!)
Oh good grief.
When the trailers for this movie came out, it seemed obvious that this was just a Hollywood-subsidized vacation for the cast. These things happen from time to time: everyone goes all expenses paid to Hawaii for two months and is paid handsomely for the privilege. (If anyone ever tells you that acting is hard work, punch them in the face PRO BONO.) But it’s insane just how unapologetic the movie is about that fact*. Jon Favreau wrote the script and Vince Vaughn produced it? PERFECT! They did not even bother adding the smokescreen of pretending like they’d been hired on a film and had to go where the work was. “We definitely planned this whole thing from the very beginning.” Now, I still do not understand what a movie producer does (I think it has to do with Bluetooth and being an asshole) but I do have a decent sense of what writing a movie entails, and to say this particular script was phoned in would be an insult to phones.
There’s an extended sequence in the movie where everyone tours the resort and admires the luxurious accommodations. I suppose the point of this, if you’re being VERY generous, is to raise the stakes on how disappointing this trip is going to turn out when they discover they have to do YOGA on a BEAUTIFUL BEACH, but it’s one of those situations where it’s just like, wait, hold up, am I supposed to be excited for these fictional characters (being played by well-paid actors) because they’re in an awesome hotel? Cool. Super pumped for you make believe guys. A room on stilts in the middle of the ocean with a glass-floor so you can see the fish? Neat. So happy for you guys. I wish this movie was forever-long!
It goes without saying that jokes about couples therapy and yoga and Speedo bathing suits are so tired that you’re constantly having to carry them back to their room and tuck them in. It’s 2010 and we are all adults here. Couples therapy is really important for some people! And yoga is a perfectly reasonable way to get exercise. Speedo bathing suits can be funny sometimes, I guess, but write a funny Twitter about it and move on, don’t make a fucking movie out of your juvenile snickers. Complicating things is the fact that at the end of the movie, everyone seems to realize that the intensive therapeutic regimen seems to have worked. So…is couples therapy still boring and lame, or is it incredibly valuable in reviving people’s commitments to each other? There is nothing more annoying than having to do the work of trying to figure out what a movie’s point is when you know the movie itself doesn’t give a shit. So let’s just move on.
Lame jokes aside (although if you do leave the lame jokes aside there is basically just thirty seconds of Vince Vaughn driving a car in the snow or something) the ending of the movie is actually insulting. I don’t ask much from my hackneyed paid-vacation projects, but would it have been so hard to have ONE couple break up? You clearly have no regard for the audience’s intelligence or ability to find humor in anything more subtle than Faizon Love having to pull his dick out in front of all his friends (for no reason, and for no laughs) (there’s also a scene where Jon Favreau is going to masturbate but is interrupted by room serivce LOLOL) but you could at least have the decency to make an adult comedy (?) for adults (?) that takes place on a planet RESEMBLING Earth. It just is not possible that four couples, one of whom is already straight up divorced, and two of which are on the verge of divorce, to all come out of a week long vacation still together and stronger than ever. We live in a post
9/11 Temptation Island world now. It would be one thing, perhaps, if you just wanted these couples to work it out so much because they were all so perfect for each other, but that’s not even the case. In fact, many of them are very bad for each other! They should totally get divorced! Oh phew. These miserable couples succumbed to the irreality of a luxury tropical resort and decided to perpetuate their misery for a few more months until the effect of the sunshine’s vitamin D wears off and they just straight up stab each other’s faces off with dinner knives.