“Couples” needs more therapy

It’s the recession, and to celebrate, all of your favorite actors and actresses are looking for work. Lucky for you, they found it in the same film, “Couples Retreat.” Unlucky for you, Peter Billingsley (best known for playing Ralphie in the cult classic “A Christmas Story”) directed this movie into the ground. Billingsley is about as good at directing as Ralphie was at writing his essay about the Christmas gift he most desired. Both cases result in damage to the eyes.

While viewing the film, I had difficulty telling whether the film’s writers, Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn and Dana Fox, were being sarcastic or not. I mean, a yoga instructor wearing a thong and a four year old who can construct complex sentences? But, by far the most absurd part of the film is its plot: three couples are coerced into going to “Eden” by a fourth couple. At “Eden,” they find out the couples’ therapy they thought was optional is instead a mandatory part of the vacation plan. As a result, all havoc breaks loose as each couple finds out their relationship isn’t perfect.

What’s difficult to understand is why these relationships are so problematic. They all seem to live in a nice suburban house, have gainful employment and kids that love and even listen to them. It seems mind-boggling then that Americans — probably not as well off as the characters in the movies — are willing to pay good money (“Couples Retreat” was the number one breadwinner last weekend) to listen to pretty, affluent people talk about their non-existent problems. The film is a pathetic attempt at escapism, and yet people are certainly buying into it.

In addition to the star-studded cast, including Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Kristin Davis, Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell, there are plentiful cameos. John Michael Higgins, in particular, shines amongst a dull cast as a counselor with a particularly vivid personality. But let’s not get carried away, the rest of the film is full of empty dialogue and characters we don’t really care about.

Another startling facet of the film’s disconnect with reality is the blatant typecasting of races. Shane and Trudy, the only couple of ethnic descent, African-American in this instance, fit every classic, negative black stereotype: lazy, fat, grammatically challenged and much more.

As if this is not enough to anger viewers, today’s youth is not portrayed in a flattering light either. Apparently they like to be drunk, wear bikinis and dry hump everything in sight. While this characterization may not be holistically inaccurate, the most disturbing aspect is that these middle aged couples ultimately want to emulate them. What frightened me even more was how good everyone looked in a bikini. Somehow, I don’t think Yalies would look so hot if forced into skimpy bathing suits.

But, there is one ray of creative hope in the film. A.R. Rahman, Oscar-winning composer/producer of “Slumdog Millionare’s” soundtrack, created wonderfully relaxing, island-inspired tunes. At times, the album made it easy to forget you were attending a film without a coherent plot and a bunch of lifeless characters. This soundtrack marks a rapid departure from most of his work, which is distinctly Indian in derivation. As a result, the film solidifies Rahman as a major composer in contemporary American film.

Despite the offensively trite humor, audience members in my theater seemed to be having a great time. Perhaps, for some, the film taken at face value offers a vapid delight. There is no doubting that we are in a recession, and I would probably suggest keeping your 10 dollars instead of hoping this film is something it isn’t. But then again, I’m sure you will not find any other film currently at the Cineplex offering such a high ratio of quality actors (not acting to their ability) to cheap jokes. So maybe there is a lot of bang for your buck after all.

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