Weddings are like slick car commercials. They make everything seem shiny and fantastic, of course. But you have to squint to see the fine print.
Oh, sure, the pastor hints at that fine print when he asks whether you’re ready to make a commitment "for better or for worse." But if he detailed the things that "worse" might entail, we might see more brides and grooms run for the hills instead of mushily exchanging rings and showing everybody a little altar-side PDA. Morning breath? Stinky clothes? Pot roast not like Mom used to make? Problems which are not the least bit funny that we shan’t mention here? Marriage, as any two people who have been married for more than six months can tell you, is not for the timid.
The couples in Couples Retreat know about the pitfalls of marriage. Dave and Ronnie get along well enough, but their relationship has devolved to a reasonably efficient social contract. Joey and Lucy can barely stand to look at each other, and they’re just biding time until their teenage daughter leaves the nest. Shane’s wife has already left him, and he’s now hanging with a 20-year-old oversexed dynamo who calls him "Daddy."
All seem to have the trajectories for their sad futures pretty much set when another couple, Jason and Sylvia, announce that despite being close to divorce themselves, they’re giving their marriage one last chance—on an idyllic island called Eden run by noted "couples whisperer" Marcel. While the program is outrageously expensive, Jason tells his friends that he "found a great group rate."
And so the four couples tromp down to paradise to rub the "or worse" part out of their marriages. They quickly discover that their relationships are in more trouble than they thought. Joey promptly plots his escape to Eden’s east side (a debauchery-soaked single’s retreat). Lucy flirts with the yoga instructor. And Jason pulls a hypothetical gun on his counselor.
Only one couple goes to Eden to get real help. The rest go along for the "fun stuff." But, as it turns out, the trip doesn’t just rescue one marriage: It saves four.
As crass as this movie is (we’ll have to get into how crass all too soon), Couples Retreat offers some surprisingly salient thoughts and advice on marriage. Most of it is centered on one basic but all-too-elusive premise: Don’t take your spouse or the love that you share for granted. It’s like the movie Fireproof, in a way—if Fireproof was a raunchy sex comedy that never mentioned God.
Joey tells Dave that he’s so self-absorbed he can’t see that his wife absolutely adores him. Dave returns the favor, telling Joey that he’s got to be willing to work on his marriage—that it’s a two-way street, "not a highway and a bike path." Jason, a control freak who tends to communicate in PowerPoint presentations, understands he’s got to loosen up a little bit after his wife, who is given a chance to ride in a boat with him or dive into shark-infested waters, chooses the sharks. Shane gently dumps his young girlfriend after running into, and reuniting with, his ex-wife.
The parents in the group show themselves to be reasonably patient and loving with their children, offering occasional bits of parental wisdom as they go along. When Joey’s teenage daughter tries to leave the house wearing short shorts and a revealing top, he tells her to change. "Know your value," he tells her. "And if he can’t see that, he doesn’t deserve you."
Marcel’s program is glazed with free-form quasi-spirituality, subtly picking elements from a variety of faiths and religions. "We’re all made in God’s image," he tells the couples when asking them to (fully) disrobe on the beach. "We’re all made perfect." The term karma is bandied about with some regularity.
Joey tells his teenage daughter that she should emulate the Taliban when it comes to her clothes: "Keep your body a secret."
Sex is a big topic of conversation, with each couple dealing with a handful of issues.
Joey and Lucy may be the film’s most dysfunctional couple in this regard. Married after Lucy got pregnant at their high school prom, the two have seemingly lost interest in each other. And it’s more than suggested that Joey’s mainstay is masturbation. At one point, an Eden houseman walks in on him before he can start. At another, Joey becomes visibly aroused during a massage. (He ineffectually solicits the masseuse’s "assistance," then tells her to leave so he can "proceed.")
There’s talk of marital unfaithfulness and watching taped sexual exploits. We hear crude references to private parts. The east side of Eden is known as "Hump Island." Joey flirts and dances with bikini-clad twentysomethings and has a conversation with Dave about homosexual desire. Lucy engages in a great deal of flirtation with Salvadore, the yoga instructor who often wears just a skimpy bathing suit and sometimes wears nothing at all. (In the later instance, his midsection is obscured by a section of shrubbery.)
Shane’s girlfriend straddles him, dripping hot wax on his chest. She strips off his pants—at Marcel’s request—while he’s standing on the beach. (He’s not wearing underwear and we see his backside.) Both frequently talk about sex. And when Shane reunites with his ex-wife, she tells him she left him, in part, to find out what other men were like in bed (going into some detail about how freewheeling her post-divorce escapades were).
All four couples (Shane having reunited with his ex-wife) eventually engage in much kissing and passionate groping. Everyone’s seen in either bikinis or underwear. (And the bikini seems to be the standard uniform for female visitors to Eden.) Lucy gets a rubdown from a male masseuse who has a "husband." And it’s hard to overstate how sexually provocative Salvadore’s yoga positions are.
Dave, mistaking Jason for a burglar, pulls a gun on his friend after Jason breaks into Dave’s house. Dave receives a little scratch on his leg after a close encounter with a couple of sharks—an injury that looks more like a glancing scrape from the boat than any sort of bite wound. Joey punches Salvadore in the face, knocking him silly.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Alcohol flows freely at this romantic getaway, and we see folks drinking everything from wine to beer to rum to shots of blue liquor. Shane’s young girlfriend mixes a margarita in her mouth. Dave tells one of Eden’s managers that he plans to "get a little bit tipsy" that evening, and perhaps drink more after that. With any luck, Dave says, he’ll be "passed out on my face by lunchtime."
Other Negative Elements
Dave’s youngest son is still trying to get the hang of the whole potty training thing. He wets Dave and Ronnie’s bed and, later, urinates in a display toilet at a home improvement center. Then, near the end of the movie, he defecates in the same toilet. After the credits, there’s a short clip featuring the film’s four main male characters urinating behind shrubbery.
We learn that Jason showed his three male friends a PowerPoint presentation (or several of them) relating to testicular cancer
Shane buys his girlfriend a motorcycle he can’t afford, getting Dave to cosign for him.
It doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the weird and wacky therapy sessions, but after spending a week on the island, Dave and Ronnie come to realize that they’ve been taking each other for granted too much. All of the couples end up re-energizing their marital commitments, as a matter of fact.
"We don’t ’got a problem,’" Dave tells Ronnie. "We got a million problems." Most married people do, he adds. It’s part of the territory. Marriage is never problem-free, he says, so the important thing is to fix what you can, deal with what you can’t and stay true to that "commitment to each other."
It’s a really sweet statement that comes at the end of a film with a sweet, funny heart.
Too bad its heart fails long before that end finally rolls around. It’s torn and bruised in such a way that it can’t really be patched up with love, understanding and an expensive trip to Bora-Bora. In a little less than two hours, audiences are subjected to sex talk, sex slang, sexual themes, sexualized clothing, sexual dysfunction and—well, sex. And while sexual intimacy is a critical part of God’s plan for humankind, He probably didn’t intend for us to watch so much of it discussed and acted out by others on a great big screen at the mall.