Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are dangerously close to getting a divorce. In a last ditch effort to save their marriage, they decide to take a vacation to a tropical resort meant to help ailing couples through therapy. Short on cash, they enlist help from their friends to offset the cost through a group rate: the kid-raising Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman), the lovelessly married Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristen Davis), and the recently divorced Shane (Faizon Love) and his much younger girlfriend Trudy (Kali Hawk). The three other couples think they are just going to have fun and help their friends, but they realize they are in for having their relationships examined as well.
Couples Retreat is not a bad film by any means, but it never seems to strive to be a great one either. It seems perfectly content at being average; a harmless diversion not meant to really do much outside of mildly entertain the audience.
Leaving aside some rather obvious and unexplained age issues between the couples, the film does not throw any punches with its storyline. It never wavers from its basic premise, and stays on a fairly straight and predictable path. Subplots involving the resort's employees materialize and disappear just as fast. And while it does not necessarily drag at any real moments, there are more than a few instances where some scenes are emphasized much longer than others that probably could have done with more emphasis. By the time the film's ending hits, it feels abrupt and almost like a missed opportunity for more gags and characterization that could have only benefited everyone involved. The film does do a great job of blasting through basic backstories for everyone involved within the opening ten minutes, but does not do nearly enough of a job convincing us of the evolution they go through while on vacation.
While some will find this film to be hilarious from beginning to end, I cannot help but wonder how much funnier it really could have been. Yes, there are some hilarious moments sprinkled throughout the film, and some moments that are merely humorous, but there are a ton of awkward and juvenile moments that easily could have been done away with. From the start, the film sets itself up as skewing towards an older crowd, but then relies on gross out and absurd moments (specifically involving Favreau, who co-wrote the script and presumably picked his own part) that belong in a direct-to-video sequel to American Pie. These moments really took me out of the film, and just begged the question why they even bothered placing them in here at all. Worse yet, there are more than a handful of moments that simply are not funny at all, no matter how forced the actors make them.
What I really enjoyed however, as I did with the far superior Forgetting Sarah Marshall, was how it dealt with the very real trauma of a disintegrating relationship. Couples Retreat takes the high road by loading the film with comic imagery and dialogue to offset the devastating and bitter arguments. They never shy away from hiding the truth of the pain and hurt feelings these characters go through, but they tend to not over accentuate these moments for the sake of staying within the realm of comedy. I can appreciate that, because at the end of the day, everyone wants to be entertained at the movies, and watching characters yell and put each other down in a comedy is not anyone's definition of a comedy (although a well made drama like Revolutionary Road can pull it off). I only mention this because of The Break-Up, a supposed comedy about a couple's breakup. The film, again starring Vaughn and Favreau, was just horrifically disappointing and near pathetic in its attempts at entertaining an audience. A mess of ideas and ill-placed and near non-existent humour made that film almost unwatchable. But in Couples Retreat, the drama and the comedy are balanced so easily that it makes one question how a movie like The Break-Up could have failed on so many counts.
The acting is not extraordinary, but it is fairly well done. The men seem to do a lot better than the women in all cases (likely because of how much more seems to be written for them), but then three of the four main male actors have spent much of the past decade working in comedy. The comical repairing of Vaughn and Favreau does wonders for the film, making it all the more watchable. Favreau puts in some really great work as a man just counting down the days until he and his wife file for divorce. While he is saddled with the worst scenes in the film, he delivers the strongest and most consistent work. Vaughn plays the resentful know-it-all character he has been perfecting for years now, but he is more muted here than he is in the likes of Wedding Crashers. Bateman does good in his role, but he never really stretches his character out at any moment. Love shows hints of really making something of his character, but never manages to move outside of being the obvious comic fodder.
Of the female characters, I really enjoyed Bell's performance the best. Hawk never really gets a chance to do much of anything, Davis seems too old for her character (and a bit too close to her role in Sex and the City), and Akerman just never really impresses. I liked her better in Watchmen, and she was one of the weakest things about that movie.
Far from perfect, Couples Retreat is a decent film that never strives to be more than average. It has quite a few laughs, and some respectably dramatic scenes. If you go in not expecting much, you will not come out disappointed.
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