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Film Reviews: Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Failure to Launch
Starring Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker. Directed by Tom Dey. Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember. Rated PG-13.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
BFF

A girl shouldn’t steal her best friend’s movie, but Zooey Deschanel gets a pass.

By KRISTIAN LIN

In most romantic comedies, there’s a girl. Then there’s her best friend. The female lead, like the male lead, is usually blandly written, so that any actress can step in and fill the role. The best friend, on the other hand, is there to provide color. She’s allowed to have personality traits that might be too idiosyncratic or interesting for the lead role. Thus, the best friend comes in many varieties: flaky, slutty, bitter, bitchy, geeky, fat, married (with or without kids), gay male, lesbian (not as common as the gay male, but you do see it), and so forth. The above traits aren’t mutually exclusive (except the gay male and lesbian ones), and there can be more than one best friend to embody different traits. This is why, for actors, the best friend is often more fun to play — while the leading lady has to make goo-goo eyes at the guy, the best friend is free to puncture the romance with well-placed wisecracks.

Zooey Deschanel has a lead actress’ looks, with her doll-like features and a pair of hazel eyes you could easily get lost in. Yet just as often she’s cast as the best friend, thanks to her disaffected manner and deep voice that’s well suited to sarcastic muttering. As a best friend named Kit, she’s put to good use in the ill-titled Failure to Launch, so much so that she totally upstages the stars.

I guess we have to get around to them at some point. Matthew McConaughey plays a 35-year-old man named Tripp who refuses to live on his own despite having the money and the social skills to do so. Anxious to get him out of the house, his parents (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw) hire Kit’s roommate Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), a professional who specializes in pretending to fall in love with men to get them to move out of their parents’ places.

This setup, which is so implausible that the movie calls itself on it, would be fine if the material were any good or the two leads had any chemistry. Neither is true, and though the story’s emotional beats track perfectly, having the characters work through their issues makes for tedious viewing, especially in the creaky climactic scene involving bondage and a webcast. The only really memorable bit here is Terry Bradshaw getting naked, which goes down on my list of Things I Didn’t Need to See.

It wouldn’t have been a surprise if Deschanel had sunk into the muck with the rest of the film, saddled as she is with an unconvincing secondary romance and a moronic subplot involving a pesky mockingbird. If that’s not bad enough, Kit is an undifferentiated mass of quirks — early on we’re told that she drinks a lot, but that’s totally unconnected with any other aspect of her personality. Yet the actress commits fiercely to Kit’s lack of commitment and has the character display low levels of tolerance for Paula’s crap that gets us on her side. Against heavy odds, she stands tall here and steals the picture. Alas, it’s strictly an act of petty larceny that will go largely unnoticed.


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