A juvenile stew of one line potshots and sight gags

Couples Retreat

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            With impeccable timing, “Couples Retreat” has shot a heat seeking missile at the topic of the moment in our pop culture. This movie is a C grade companion piece to Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Together the movie and the book might just signal the end of the era of seeing life through rose colored glasses. May we now salute the possibility that people will be allowed to live in reality rather than in a land of impossibilities.

            So said, there is a major problem with ‘Couples.’ It would be too much to ask co-writers and producers Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau to inject sophistication into this welcome premise when they are veterans of the slob and slacker culture that has long operated in the realm of four letter words and pictures. What they have given us here is a juvenile stew of one line pot shots and sight gags. A juvenile stew on the subject is, however, better than no stew at all.

            Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) are sunk in marital misery over matters of sex and resentment; they lead three other couples to an island set in glorious tropical waters (filmed in Bora Bora) with the promise of jet skis, dancing, and the rekindling of their marriages without telling them they have been enrolled in a mandatory couples restructuring course not unlike a Marine Corps boot camp.

            The four couples are met on the dock by the camp commandant who hands them their compulsory schedules and orders them to go west to their headquarters while the swinging young are directed eastward to the singles village. Scheming to get from Rehabilitation West to Pleasure Island East becomes the plot.

            The filmmakers throw cold water all over easy solutions as four therapists guide four couples through the clichés of their profession. Self-help groups are ridiculed; the commandant throws in some sexy yoga positions to pacify the guys who dream about Island East. The long haired, bronzed tennis instructor tempts the wives with his oil soaked compliments. The fat forty year old parades his arm candy; the ludicrous white hunter gets lost in the jungle on his way to paradise. The picture dangles the wild pleasures of singledom, alcohol, and sex when the real problem is that these men and women are simply sick of each other.

            Why did this mediocre film do $35,000,000 in business on its opening weekend? The buzz says Universal Studios bought the reviews by bringing a plane load of press to Bora Bora during the filming. Think again. The reviews have been terrible. Doesn’t it speak to a collective impatience with the sights and sounds of a juvenile pleasure culture, to the futility of quick fixes for human dilemmas? This movie chose and hit its targets; now let’s hope someone will make a movie that will grow from a generation looking for broader pleasures, or at least for more interesting sins.


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