The XX Factor

“Couples Retreat” Peddles a Bizarre Vision of Fear-Induced Monogamy

I disregarded the bad reviews and saw Couples Retreat this weekend, mostly because I have a sort of inexplicable faith in the comedy prowess of Vince Vaughn. As expected, it didn’t offer much beyond the Hollywood-happy obvious for the coupled characters who take to a relationship-building resort for a week of joint therapy, yoga, and quasi-illogical trust-building activities (you’ve seen the stripping-down scene on the beach in the preview, right? ) to work on their endangered marriages. In fact, the only thing that did prove surprising about Couples Retreat was the terribly boring, compulsory brand of monogamy the movie offered up at the end.

Throughout the movie there are a bunch of bizarrely conservative mini-dilemmas that seemed more apt for an episode of Degrassi -in the sauna the men discuss whether thinking of other women during sex is cheating (the answer: a tentative yes) and later, the women scold Kristin Davis for flirting with the yoga instructor despite the fact her husband openly salivates over a young single dancer in front of his wife and their friends (double standard much?)-but the real kicker is the end, when a newly self-realized Kristin Bell storms off angrily and the other women follow her to the throbbing dance beats and seizure-inducing lights of the singles’ island. See, there are two islands at the resort-the couples’ island (Eden West) and the raging, 24-hour-party-sluts island (Eden East). And it’s only by visiting the other side, full of bikini- and Speedo-clad hedonists, that the married folk can come to appreciate their not-so-great unions.

Related question: Do you want to avoid eating at Applebee’s alone? Seriously. (And also, spoiler alert!) This is what Jon Favreau asks himself when the men reach the party island and he sees his wife dancing it up with a Fabioesque twentysomething. Keep in mind the two haven’t said a word to each other the entire vacation and are ready to divorce as soon as their daughter goes off to college, but one desperately frightening idea changes all of that: eating at a chain restaurant alone. Favreau confronts her, they fight, confess to cheating on each other, confess to hating each another, and then he says: “I don’t want to eat at Applebee’s alone.” Davis replies: “I don’t either.” Thus their marriage is saved. They’re not, how do you say …  happy, exactly, but God, isn’t better to be an unhappily married person than one of these desperate dancing people out searching for the first offer that comes their way? And that’s the slightly depressing conclusion of Couples Retreat : Take what you have. Being alone is worse.