A “Couples Retreat” into Blandsville

Hollywood is a business. While many people think of the engine of America’s movie industry as a sparkling gold-plated driver of dreams in bright spotlights, it is a catalyst of and victim to capitalism at the end of the day. It employs millions of people, funnels billions more into economies around the world, and needs money-making product to sustain its gross, bloated chassis. Nowhere is Hollywood’s dependency more evident than the mainstream movie, a calculated product of famous actors/actresses, by-the-numbers plots and screenwriting, test-screenings and marketing push for awareness.

All of these components are whittled down into something palatable to the masses, a bland concoction of beige that goes down smooth and doesn’t upset stomachs or sensibilities. A prime example: Couples Retreat.

Vince Vaughn looks like he's afraid for his life. Or his waning credibility. Whatever.
Vince Vaughn looks like he's afraid for his life. Or his waning credibility. Whatever.

Couples Retreat is a movie with bankable stars, well-worn plotlines and cliches up the yin-yang. The story of four married couples at a resort to work on their relationships seems like territory that has been traveled long before, and could stand to be shaken up. With comedic talents like Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, Extract) and Fred Claus’s Vince Vaughn (somehow branching out from flavorless Christmas comedies like Four Christmases) and a screenplay co-written by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Swingers) and Vaughn, it’s amazing how banal AND offensive this movie looks. Want to see the object of ire? Check this out:

From this 30-second clip, there are examples of:

Fish out of water syndrome: witnessed by the couples arriving in the tropical paradise and meeting Stanley “with a C.” We sho’ ain’t in Kansas no mo’!

Beautiful women: The Charlie’s Angels-like shot of three of the female leads (there should be a fourth; more on that later) walking towards the cameras is designed to bring on instant wood in the male population. “Ooh, they have on bikini’s! Time to ditch that Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue!” Yawn.

Aloof natives: Jean Reno, actor of better films like Leon, is cast as the zen-like, culture-clashing employee, talking about the “circle of life” when our heroes are surrounded by sharks in the water. Oh, foreigners. They will never understand America’s love of xenophobia.

The Asian-inspired prison jumpsuits are a reminder: this movie is torture.
The Asian-inspired prison jumpsuits are a reminder: this movie is torture.

Homophobia: With the bellow of “Who is ready to stretch their limits?” it is the male viewer’s warning to suck their sphincters tight! The greased-up yoga instructor (Carlos Ponce?, Deuce Bigalow: European Jungle), clad in a Speedo and air-humping Bateman’s face, practically begs the viewer to gasp in disgust and hold their fingers to the screen in a cross symbol. We get it, marketers: suggestive male-on-male humping is yucky!

Black Stereotypes: Nothing spells olive branches of racial inclusion like black penis jokes! When the couples are asked to disrobe by Reno (also wearing a Speedo), it’s time to once again go to the well for tired jokes. Veteran comedic actor and token black lead Faizon Love mentions that he doesn’t “have any draws on” (Get it? Because black people only refer to their underwear as “draws!” It’s like they speak another language!), which leads to eventually being coaxed into removing said “draws.” Cue WASP-esque Kristen Bell to gasp in shock at the sight of unleashed anaconda, white males (Bateman, Favreau and Vaughn) discomforted in their supposed penile inadequacy, and Vaughn later rolling with the punches. BOOM: THAT’S how you pander to middle America!

ZOMG! Black penis! White members... small and flaccid in contrast!
ZOMG! Black penis! White members... small and flaccid in contrast!

Party Over Here!: Since it all takes place on a jumpin’ tropical island, the last few seconds show vacationers bumpin’ and grindin’. What a way to polish over the last 27 seconds of monotony: “Hey film-goers, this movie is tedious and lazy, but there’s a party over here!”

Lack of People of Color: Forget that most mainstream Hollywood movies shoehorn in a few people of ethnicity to appeal to those colored demographics: where the hell is the wife of Faizon Love’s character, Tasha Smith (Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, You, Me and Dupree)? In between shots of pasty, flabby guts, enough fire for a Michael Bay movie and blue water, there are no mentions that half of the fourth couple is absent.

Two of those fabled colored people
Two of those fabled colored people

With a strong black woman like Michelle Obama as First Lady of the United States, there should be no reason for America to fear those scary Negro ladies. (*Psst: they still do.*) Hey, maybe she’s invisible! Maybe she doesn’t like the sun, which would be even funnier if this movie had any sense of irony. But nah, she’s not there, like the marketers were like, “She won’t sell to the non-blacks.” Did you know that up-and-coming comedic actor Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Knocked Up) is in this movie, too? You wouldn’t know it by the commercial.

A 30-second commercial is not a lot to go on for judging a 107-minute movie, and yet it says a lot. As commercials are made and broadcast to sell a product, the TV spot for Couples Retreat shows a movie that will not challenge the average moviegoer’s preconceptions. This is comfort food for the mainstream audience, and a theoretical box-office slam dunk for a movie studio, because of those reasons stated above. And every dollar that goes towards viewing it supports that Hollywood machine that churns out these offerings of banality. Enjoy!

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