Movie Review: Couples Retreat

M: The new Vince Vaughn- Jon Favreau collaboration, Couples Retreat, opened this weekend.  I was able to go with a friend of mine to a sneak preview of it so that we could bring this review to you a touch early…  Unfortunately, life got in the way, and I’ve been off of the blog for several days.  So it is with sincerest apologies that we bring you our sneak peek at Couples Retreat several days after it opened.

Couples Retreat is a romantic comedy of a different variety.  Most romantic comedies center around a new relationship, whereas this the romance (or lack there of, but we’ll get to that in a minute) is between already married couples.  One of the other unique things about it is that it is the couples, more so than their individual members, that are the characters.  In the opening credits we see clips of couples spanning the decades with Bowie’s Modern Love playing behind them (which by the way, is very subtly similar musically to The Cranberries’ Salvation, in case you never noticed).  At the end of the sequence, each of our four main couples’ pictures are put up, introducing us to Dave and Ronnie (Vaughn and Watchmen‘s Malin Akerman), Joey and Lucy (Favreau and Kristin Davis), Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and a family favorite, Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell), and Shane and Jennifer (Faizon Love and Tasha Smith), the last of whom we quickly find out are no longer a couple, having divorced.  Our Jennifer stand-in is 20 year old Trudy (Kali Hawk), who Shane’s been dating for two weeks.For the rest of the movie we learn about each pair more than about the individuals, from the yuppies Jason and Cynthia who communicate to their friends via power-point presentations and IM, to the loveless high school couple Joey and Lucy who got pregnant on prom night and are counting the days until their now-18-year-old goes off to college, to Dave and Ronnie, whose lives revolve around their two young boys, his job and their home improvement projects.

After a power point presentation from Jason and Cynthia on why they are considering getting a divorce (as Vaughn wryly remarks “glad to see you’re coming from the heart on this one”), they all head off to the Eden resort for a vacation of sorts, with some couples skill-building mixed in.  From there, each relationship is given more backstory and detail, each is pushed, and very predictably, each comes out happy in the end, including Shane’s ex-wife showing up and replacing Trudy.

Though this is not a straight-out comedy, there are some very funny moments throughout.  Some of them are typical Vince Vaughn, like a stream-of-consciousness rant on Richard Simmons.  Some would be lost on younger viewers, like the group repeatedly referring to the resort manager as Mr Belvedere.  Some are uncomfortable and inappropriate, like the entire yoga scene, which I dare you to watch without laughing.  Some are subtle, like the faculty of NBC’s Community providing the couple’s counseling (the always hilarious John Michael Higgins, and the suddenly ever-present Ken Jeong); some are less so, like the fantastic Guitar Hero scene, or Dave and Ronnie’s adorable younger son peeing in the toilet in a floor room display in a home improvement store.

However, this is not Wedding Crashers, and is not drop dead, roll-over-in-the-aisles funny.  Fortunately, it is also not The Break Up, meaning it actually is funny, while also trying to explore real issues in relationships.  Each of the relationships, while caricatures to an extent, have very real concerns that are relatable to many, many couples in society today.  The movie does a good job fleshing out what the couples’ issues are, but because it’s a movie, does an all-too-quick job of tidying them up and resolving them all in one night.  That, and not giving Kristen Bell enough to do, are probably the most significant flaws of the movie.

There are some other fun take-aways, though.  One, which is a little more personal for me than for most, was the scenery.  The Eden Resort is visually stunning (when they arrive Joey declares “This looks like a screen saver!”) and well it should be, as it was shot in Bora Bora, one of the Tahitian islands.  The island itself, and the specific spot they chose for the fictitious resort, happens to be on the location of the real le Merridian resort, where Mrs. M and I went on our honeymoon.  For anyone watching the movie, I can tell you that as amazing as it looks on screen, it doesn’t even do it justice, and when Jason and Cynthia show the picture of the resort in the slide show, you can see the over-water bungalow we stayed in.

Another fun element is the resort staff.  From Jean Reno’s fantastically goofy resort founder and “couples whisperer,” Messier Marcel, to the resort manager, the aforementioned Mr. Belvedere, Sctanley (as he explains when they meet him, his “name is Stanley… spelled with a ‘c'”) played brilliantly by Peter Serafinowicz, to Marcel’s assistant, the very Polynesian looking Temuera Morrison, who at one point hilariously tries to convince Shane to drop his drawers.  What really pushed them over the top for me was when I looked up the two lesser-knowns afterward, and realized that the resort was being run by the Professional, Darth Maul and Jango Fett.  Because when looking for a tropical retreat to revive a struggling relationship, who doesn’t think hitman, Sith and bounty hunter!

Overall, Couples Retreat is an enjoyable, lighthearted film that’s fun to watch and wraps all its problems up in a neat little two hour box.  It’s by no means a great movie, but it was plenty good enough for me to take the missus to just a few days later on our date night, something each of the couples in the movie needed to do more of before heading on their retreat!

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