Failure to Launch (2006)
Commentary by Rudy Palma, March 2006

I couldn't help but feel extremely offended by the casualty with which heightism was portrayed in the romantic comedy Failure to Launch starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey. In the movie, Tripp (McConaughey), plays a 35 year-old man who still lives at home. His parents (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw) hire Paula (Parker), a “professional motivator,” to encourage him to hit the road via a contrived romantic relationship. To be fair, the premise itself is unbelievable.

In one scene, Paula's girlfriend Kitt (Zooey Deschanel) is approached by Tripp's buddy Ace (Justin Bartha), who finds her attractive. He does not come on too strongly or act like a jerk. He tries to invite himself to one of her beers and, when she says no, tries to find another way that he can sit with her – typical actions of a typical guy.

Despite his advances, she coldly leaves. A minute later, when Kitt and Paula are talking about Tripp, Ace and their other buddy Demo (Bradley Cooper), Paula suggests that one of Tripp's buddies might be a good match for Kitt. She describes a man who is successful in a computer-related job, and both girls assume it is Demo, who is taller. Paula quickly corrects herself; it is actually "the little guy". Demo is the one who was recently fired from Kinko's. "How do I choose?," says Kitt sarcastically. Clearly, if the short guy got taller or the tall guy got a good job, then there would be a man worth her time.

Later on in the movie, Ace, who finds out what Paula's really up to, agrees to keep her secret if she'll set up one date for him with Kitt. He shows up at her door with a yellow rose but she slams the door in his face, telling Paula "he's a troll!" Paula is desperate to keep her secret, and finally convinces Kitt to do it as a favor to her.

Later on when the three central male characters have a bonding scene, after Tripp reprimands Ace for using his personal life for Ace’s own benefit, Demo tells Tripp to ease up – after all, how many chances does Ace have?

Things do change, and romance blossoms, with both Ace and Kitt together at the end of the movie. However, they are in a relationship where she treats him with little respect, much like the relationship between Monica and Chandler on "Friends." While this is apparently for the purpose of comedic sexual tension, it does seem all too fitting since she assumed he was unworthy of respect before even getting to know him – a natural progression, if you will.

What really takes the cake with this is that actor Justin Bartha (and thus Ace) is completely average height at 5' 9". Even standing next to McConaughey and Cooper, who are both over 6 feet tall, he hardly seems like a "troll." Still, he is meant to be perceived as one.

The overall message the writers of this film send with Ace’s character is that if you’re a man of average height, you’d better go the extra mile to impress a woman. And if you’re short, don’t bother trying.

If Kitt is an exemplary modern-day woman, short (and average) men are due to run out of incentive very soon.

palmarua@shu.edu