Review: Couples Retreat

couples retreat one sheetDirector Peter Billingsley had a tough assignment: take four suburban couples and put them through a series of “relationship building” challenges that were thought-provoking, poignant, revealing, and funny. In his attempt to accomplish this, he commits the cardinal directorial sin: he makes everyone a crass caricature, preventing us from engaging with any of them, nor caring about the outcome of their journey. Worse, it’s just not that funny.

Couples Retreat could have been a funny movie but even the significant acting and comic skills of its stellar cast left me completely uninvolved.  The fact that it blatantly stereotyped and poked fun at gays, African-Americans, Asians, therapists, couples who need a therapist, and on and on just added to the pain of being in the audience.
The film stars Vince Vaughn as Dave, a video game salesman who is married to Ronnie (Malin Akerman). They have two young boys and while he works long hours, she obsesses over remodeling their house, dragging him to pick out $1000 kitchen tiles and insisting he choose which of the different finishes he prefers for new towel rails. 
Dave is pals with uptight dweeb Jason (Jason Bateman), overweight black guy Shane (Faizon Love) and perpetually on the make good fella Joey (Jon Favreau). None of these guys are believable and some pretty heavy material is played, awkwardly, as comic. For example, Jason is a survivor of testicular cancer, but it’s just a setup for a few jokes about a PowerPoint presentation he makes to his friends about avoiding what they call “ball cancer”.
Couples Retreat has the feel of a series of skits from a late night TV comedy show, loosely stitched together into a film, rather than a coherent story of four different couples being forced to face the weaknesses – and strengths – of their relationships. If you can think of a cheap laugh in that context, it probably shows up in this film. There are some chuckles, but it’s just not a funny movie.

I have to admit that it was difficult for me to understand why these guys would be friends when they don’t seem to like each other very much, they’re not supportive, they don’t have shared interests, hobbies, kids in the same schools, or even geographic proximity.
Here’s the low-down on the pairings in this movie: Dave is married to Ronnie, Jason is married to Cynthia (Kristen Bell), Shane is with Trudy (Kali Hawk), but is still working through his recent divorce from Jennifer (Tasha Smith), and Joey is married to Lucy (Kristin Davis, who, in a trivia note, was born in Boulder, Colorado).
40-something Shane calls his 20yo girlfriend Trudy — who he’s known for two weeks prior to their departure to Eden, the resort referenced in the movie title — “boo boo” and she calls him “daddy”. We meet them when Shane’s begging Dave to co-sign on a new motorcycle loan, while Trudy is in the showroom texting one of her pals. As with too much in the film, however, that’s a one-shot joke and Shane’s buying things to please Trudy never arises again in the film.
Joey and Lucy have their own drama: they’re doing their best to appear normal in front of their high school daughter, and even have a touching scene where he explains to the daughter why she can’t go out inappropriately dressed (e.g., half-naked), then adds “and you need to change your Facebook pics too. No bikini pics on the Internet, while you’re in my house, you’re Taliban.” 

couples retreat publicity still

The couples arrive at Eden for their Couple’s Retreat

As soon as she walks out of the room, however, Joey and Lucy get into an argument and it’s clear that they’re holding the relationship together until the daughter moves out. The problem?  Kids always know and the dichotomy between the nice parenting moment and the vitriolic argument immediately thereafter is completely unbelievable. Again, the daughter has that cameo and never shows up again, even in a single conversation or argument between the parents.
The most problematic relationship to me, though, was Jason and Cynthia. A testicular cancer survivor, Jason is clearly the stand-in for the cerebral, detached modern man. They’re trying desperately to conceive but cannot, and have spent the previous year working with a fertility doctor unsuccessfully. It’s brought tension into their relationship, and it’s they who suggest to the other couples that a week-long visit to Eden could be great fun and just what the two of them need to try and rekindle the flame of their love.
While Jason and Cynthia sell it to their friends as a fun vacation, it turns out that there are hours of required relationship building exercises, daily sessions with therapists, and more obstacles, and that it’s not until the end of the film that they get to “ride the jetskiis”. The transition from their suburban lives to arrival at the island is jarring, and the edits throughout the film had a rough feel that was surprising, making it feel a bit like a work print.
I will say that I enjoyed seeing Jean Reno as Eden’s director, Monsieur. Marcel, but that’s mostly because I so liked him in the action film The Professional. The contrast was great fun, similar to Steve Martin’s wonderful role in The Spanish Prisoner.
There’s not much more I can say about Couples Retreat. There were definitely some funny scenes and the exteriors (shot on location in Bora-Bora, Tahiti) were stunning, but as a coherent film with a beginning, a middle and an end?  Keep your expectations low and perhaps you’ll enjoy its 107 PG-13 minutes. Then again, maybe a tanning salon and daiquiri would be a better use of your cash…

One comment on “Review: Couples Retreat

  1. Very fair review. Was stunned how lazy this film was … most of the gags could have been written on a cocktail napkin during Happy Hour.

    And there’s zero bond/chemistry between these so-called good buddies, not even between Favreau and Vaughn.

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