He has people who cook his meals, clean up after him, launder his clothes and maintain his palace. His love life consists of a revolving door of beautiful, amorous women. The world is his oyster. Is he a corporate tycoon? An A-list celebrity? An Arab sheikh? Nah, just a hunky 35-year-old Baltimore boat broker living the “good life” by refusing to move out of his parents’ house. Tripp is a member of the Boomerang Generation, a growing population of “adultescents” with little incentive to check out of Hotel Mom & Dad.
Tripp enjoys hanging out with buddies Ace and Demo, a couple of weekend warriors who also reap the benefits of living at home. These three amigos surf. They play video games. They attend sporting events. With such an idyllic existence, what could go wrong? (Cue sinister music.) It seems someone wants Tripp to … grow up. His parents are ready for an empty nest. In fact, they’re so desperate to see him on his own that they hire Paula, a lovely consultant who makes her living dating basement-dwelling mama’s boys just long enough to boost their confidence and get them to spread their wings. But Tripp isn’t her typical mark. The two actually fall for each other, which gets complicated when he inevitably learns of the business deal that served as the basis of their relationship.
The filmmakers seem to be aware that it’s unnatural and generally unhealthy for children to live at home into their 30s, though they’re sensitive enough to allow for extenuating circumstances. A woman in a restaurant observes a loving silver-haired couple and considers a lifelong marriage the ultimate romantic goal. Paula wisely prescribes tough love to Tripp’s parents, insisting that they stop pampering their slacker son and give him chores (Mom follows through, having him do his own laundry and grocery runs).
It’s said that men often lose interest in romance once they’ve conquered a woman, sexually—an implicit warning to females to exhibit patience, restraint and self-respect while dating. There’s also a sweet, sad exchange between Tripp and his mother, during which she confesses a secretly held fear that her marriage might suffer as she and Al rediscover one another without Tripp as a “buffer” (“What if he doesn’t like me?”). This is a very real concern for prospective empty-nesters, and the film’s most poignant moment. [Spoiler Warning] For all of his character flaws, Tripp selflessly plays big brother to the son of his deceased fiancée. Friends and family rally to save Tripp and Paula’s relationship before it’s too late.
Tripp is a shameless womanizer who deceives his dates in order to lure them into bed. One kisses and cavorts with him under the sheets until they’re interrupted by Tripp’s father, who excuses himself, saying, “Y’all have a good time.” Tripp and his pals talk frankly about their swinging, selfish lifestyle, and wear their tomcatting ways like a belt for carving notches. The globe-trotting Demo has a habit of “getting laid on every continent,” on his parents’ dime no less. Tripp fancies himself as a guy who lets women explore the experimental side of their sexuality. The prevailing attitude is that everyone has fun and no one gets hurt, which is hardly the case in real life.
Meanwhile, Paula and her moody, reportedly promiscuous roommate, Kit, also discuss sex and romance as if they’re one and the same—ethics sure to feel familiar to fans of Sarah Jessica Parker’s long-running TV series, Sex and the City. Despite a self-imposed rule not to sleep with her clients, Paula is quick to rewrite her moral code when it suits her. For example, after forcing herself on Tripp with his parents a few doors down (“Are you a screamer?” she asks), Paula defends herself to Kit by saying, “Those are my rules; I can change them if I want to!” Not that Kit has any right to criticize. With a “whatever” attitude toward life, she swings wildly from being annoyed with Ace to sexually aroused by him. The two impulsively give in to passion on several occasions.
A girl wears a cleavage-baring top. In a passing joke, a mom and dad are oblivious to the fact that their son may be gay. A young boy notes that a woman is a lesbian. A middle-aged couple brags about how their sex life has improved since hiring Paula to get their grown son to move out. One frank discussion turns to orgasms.
Partial nudity is an issue when a middle-aged woman shows off a tattoo on her breast. Kit stands at an open window (her chest barely obscured by foliage). Ace wears only boxer shorts in another scene. Tripp’s parents cuddle beneath the covers, presumably nude. The most egregious flash of flesh finds Dad (played by former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who has been vocal of late about his Christian faith) parading around bare-bottomed in what he calls his “naked room.”
Physical comedy gets a bit rough. Because his living at home violates basic laws of nature for him, Tripp finds himself attacked repeatedly by normally peaceable creatures. He’s bitten by a chipmunk (and sent tumbling down a hill) and a vegetarian lizard (triggering a painful rock-climbing accident), as well as dragged underwater by a dolphin. A paintball contest results in all-out war. Vexed by a noisy mockingbird, Kit plots to kill it. She shops for a gun, then settles on Ace scaring it with an air rifle. However, she pumps it too many times and feathers fly, forcing them to administer first aid before the resuscitated bird violently bites Ace on the nose. Much worse than that is the fact that the couple gets turned on sexually by rudeness and hostility.
Approximately 30 profanities, including an f-word, a dozen s-words and a handful of abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. There’s also a crass remark about a castrated dog.
Viewers witness social drinking at virtually every turn. Paula sips champagne with Kit who, from what her roommate intimates, may have a drinking problem. People consume wine with meals, including sake at a Japanese restaurant. Kit downs a beer while watching a paintball match. It’s noted that a man’s beverage of choice is Kahlua and cream. While borrowing a stranger’s boat, Tripp heads below deck in hopes of finding a well-stocked bar. Kit likes “drinking movies.” Tripp works his way through a six-pack of Budweiser while talking with a young boy, who keeps pace with cans of Coca-Cola. He and Paula uncork a bottle of champagne while at sea.
Tripp is an emotional con man, pretending to own his parents’ home, as well as the boats he borrows to romance his girlfriends. His modus operandi is to act the playboy until he tires of a woman or she gets too serious, at which time he takes her home to meet the parents, discover the truth and dump him. Paula isn’t any more noble, profiting from the deception of emotionally fragile guys she’s hired to date. But by the end we’re expected to sympathize with Tripp as if he’s some kind of victim rather than a cad finally getting a taste of his own medicine. In other words, deceiving someone for sex is one thing, but deceiving them for money is the real evil. Instead of confronting Paula and his parents maturely, Tripp sets them up for emotional payback once he learns he’s been played for a fool.
The kiss of death for a romantic comedy is lead characters you can’t identify with despite the movie’s desperate attempts to generate empathy. In Failure to Launch, Tripp tries to dupe Paula the same way he has emotionally swindled countless other women. He’s not just a jerk, but a handsome one with more raw material working in his favor than most guys in the audience will ever dream of. So he’s not an everyman, nor a Cinderella story in need of a cheering section. Exactly why are we supposed to rally around this turkey?
On the other side of the mattress, Paula is also a relational charlatan. She makes her living luring shy little mice out of hiding, only to crush their spirits. (It’s a wonder most of her man-boy targets don’t race back to Mom’s basement after they’ve had their hearts broken by a hottie, the likes of which they’ll never date again.) In addition to emotionally prostituting herself, upon meeting Tripp she doesn’t even have the self-respect to resist the charms of a guy she knows is a phony. So why are women supposed to feel something for her?
The couple’s best friends aren’t any better. They’re a bunch of immature adults playing at love and clueless about life. It would be one thing if characters eventually turned a corner and acknowledged the emptiness in that. No such luck. Instead, the audience spends 95 minutes being cajoled into feeling sorry for the human equivalent of wolverines in heat. Exploring the challenges of “adultescents” is fertile territory for a decent big-screen comedy, but Failure to Launch is carrying so much immoral baggage it never gets off the ground.