Sometimes it feels good to get your buttons pushed. Couples Retreat shamelessly trots out a stable of tired old nags and magically transforms them into shining young thoroughbreds by the time they reach the finish line. To stir more creaky metaphors into the mix, Couples Retreat reminds me of an Old World grandmother, happily offering up the same old recipe with gentle but insistent persuasion, urging you to “eat, eat!” And you end up eating far more than you ever thought you would, because old recipes taste really good when fresh ingredients are used.
With Couples Retreat, the filmmakers gently but persistently prod, saying “Laugh, laugh!” and you end up laughing far more than expected. The set-up feels familiar: four couples, all at different stages of their relationships, go on an island retreat intending to have fun in the sun, but instead are forced to undergo counseling. In the process, they discover new truths about themselves, everyone laughs, everyone has “a moment.” The End. Roll credits. Except that this time, the premise doesn’t give away the major pleasures of the movie.
That’s because longtime friends Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau collaborated on the sly, brutally frank, and funny script with Dana Fox, creating a solid framework that allows the performers breathing space to do their thing. Vaughn, Favreau, Jason Bateman, and Faizon Love play the men; Malin Akerman (in her best performance to date), Kristin Davis, Kristen Bell, and Kali Hawk are their romantic partners. Jean Reno is a mystical “couples whisperer.” Old Vaughn / Favreau accomplice Peter Billingsley makes his feature directorial debut. What really ties everything together is crack comic timing, and a willingness to embrace warmly some of the colder, less pleasant truths about relationships.