Getting a big group of people who enjoy each other’s company and always seem to be trying to make the other members of the group laugh is, surprisingly a good way to make a movie. Granted, these aren’t films that are going to win critic’s awards or make any AFI lists any time soon, but they do tend to be enjoyable for the audience. More than that, when it’s the right group of actors it can actually be a good movie, not just one that the audience is asked to check its brain at the door for. Again, maybe not award winning level but, by most measures, “good.”
Such is the secret to the success of the Ocean’s movies from director Steven Soderbergh and a cast that includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pit and others. The movies seem to be the result of them wanting to hang out in Las Vegas together for a while and figuring they may as well shoot a movie while they’re there.
Such seems to be the guiding light behind Couple’s Retreat. The movie stars Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn and Faizon Love and is directed by Peter Billingsly. Favreau and Vaughn, of course, are long-time movie pals, Bateman has appeared with Vaughn in a handful of movies, as has Billingsly, who has also acted as a producer on many of Favreau’s directorial efforts.
The movie has the four male leads heading to a tropical retreat with the ladies in their lives for a week of couple’s skill training. Speaking of the ladies, they’re played by Kristen Bell (playing Bateman’s wife), Malin Ackerman (playing Vaughn’s wife), Kali Hawk (playing Love’s much-younger girlfriend) and Kristen Davis (playing Favreau’s wife). So really the movie is about hanging out with your industry pals and getting a bunch of gorgeous women to spend most of the film in bikinis.
The first poster released spelled out the movie’s plot and explained its characters pretty well. It shows the main eight cast members standing in their respective pairings knee-deep in the waters of some vacation resort type location, each with a less than thrilled look on their faces. It’s bright and colorful, which tells me it’s trying to present the audience with a bright, funny movie. The cast is arranged in, apparently, order of how well it’s assumed they’ll draw in that audience, with Vaughn and Akerman way out in front and the pairings of Favreau/Davis and Bateman/Bell in the middle ground, with Love/Hawk toward the back. I maybe would have arranged them differently, putting Bateman and Favreau’s couples more toward the front since I think they’re big enough stars in their own rights.
The second poster is all that different from the first, with a few key changes. For one, the Love/Hawk couple is completely eliminated – from the image and the printed cast list – apparently on the assumption that they’re not going to add to the audience’s desire to see the movie as much as bigger pictures of the other three couples. All the others are brought closer to the front and given outfits that are a little more tropical looking. There’s also some image flipping going on, with Bateman and Bell on opposite sides of each other.
The trailer makes a similar arrangement of the cast. It starts off by exploring some of the relationship issues being dealt with – or not – by the couples. Vaughn/Akerman are still attracted to each other but have slowed down physically because of the kids. Favreau/Davis are each cheating on each other but seem blissfully unaware. Love/Hawk are just starting dating despite some disapproval from others. And finally, Bateman/Bell are on the verge of divorce but are inviting all their friends on a tropical retreat to help them give it one last shot.
After that it’s all laughs, with the guys and girls being put in one funny and/or emotionally compromising situation after another. Like the poster, Vaughn is at the forefront, providing most of the one-liners in the spot. Most of the humor, though, is delivered with a straight face and is extremely dry, which means these guys are the perfect cast for that script. Bateman, Favreau and Vaughn all excel in not winking at the audience when they sell a joke and this trailer shows the movie is going to be full of that.
The movie’s official website opens with a recreation, again, of the poster art where everyone is standing around in the water. I was expecting something to be done with the characters but was wrong.
The first section is “Videos” and that’s where you’ll find the Trailer and five TV spots. “Downloads” is next and is where you’ll find a Screensaver, a bunch of Wallpapers and some Buddy Icons for you to grab.
“Bios” gives you a look at the career of each of the major players in front of the camera when you mouse over their picture. Over in the upper right there’s also an All Bios button where you can alternatively access the same write-ups as well as information on director Billingsly and the other folks behind the camera.
We finally get to information about the movie’s story with “Film,” where Story is the only section. There’s just a brief one paragraph synopsis there so it’s not going to tell you a whole lot you can’t already gleam from the trailer.
Finally there’s “Gallery” where you’ll find about 30 images from the movie, including a couple of behind-the-scenes shots.
There was also an iPhone app created that tread familiar ground when it comes to movies about relationships, namely the path of playing the difference between men and women for a laugh. The “Couple’s Translator” allowed you to take a seemingly innocuous phrase that a woman might say and have it translated into Englis, revealing its actual meaning.
The movie’s Facebook page is actually really nicely done and well stocked with information. There are photos, TV spots and other video, links to news coverage and contests and more all there.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I’ve noticed quite a few TV spots for the movie, most of which pull footage from the trailer with a little bit of additional stuff thrown in. There’s also been a little bit of online advertising that has been scattered around the web that recreated the poster key art of everyone standing in the ocean in their best island outfits.
Media and Publicity
While most of the initial publicity was simply around the release of various marketing materials, there was some news when Universal and the film’s producer’s wound up winning an appeal (Hollywood Reporter 9/10/09) to the MPAA’s ratings board that reversed an original R rating and got the movie instead a less-restrictive PG-13. Because the story specifies the decision came via the appeals process I have to believe this means it did not mean the movie had to undergo trims or edits but instead the studio and producers were able to secure the reversal based solely on their powers of persuasion.
The cast and crew made the usual round of talk show and other appearances and the guys were subjected to a round of inane questions about romance and relationship, which is about as original as most media outlets tend to get with such mainstream romantic comedies.
Universal brought a bunch of movie journalists down to Bora Bora on a mini-vacation that included interviews with the cast and crew and resulted in not only some further news but quite a few pictures from the beautiful location as well.
There was plenty of other press coverage as well, ranging from interviews with Billingsly to stories about what snacks the cast members packed so they wouldn’t have to worry about local food. With such a large and high-profile cast the amount of coverage isn’t that surprising, nor is how flimsy the hooks some of those stories are hung on.
This is a nice campaign that focuses, for the most part, on selling the audience on the considerable charms of its cast. These are all actors who have pretty good reputations with the movie-going public recently (except for Akerman, still the target among those people who haven’t been able to move past her performance in Watchmen). So it’s right for the marketing to sell the movie as a essentially, a good time with these people who are generally liked.
Still, there seems to be some lightness to the campaign that I wasn’t expecting. While there are five TV spots there’s only one trailer and the website seems kind of skimpy on the content. There’s good stuff there, don’t get me wrong, but for a movie that seems to have the potential to be a late summer/early fall comedy hit there don’t appear to have been many bullets put in the gun. The ones that were loaded hit their mark, at least they appear to be aimed in the right direction.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 10/23/09: The junket trip the studio took a number of writers on to Bora Bora wound up being an ethical issue the Thrillist website had to deal with and respond to criticism around.
- 11/15/09: The removal of Faizon Love and Kali Hawk – the only two black members of the primary cast – from the movie’s posters has ignited a bit of a row (Telegraph, 11/15/09) in Great Britain, with charges of racism being met by Universal with an explanation of how only the most regularly recognizable faces were used on the revised one-sheet, with no intention to offend.