MTV News’ Josh Horowitz going through the usual paces with Couples Retreat costars Malin Akerman and Vince Vaughn. But if you want a moderately serious, honest, semi-fascinating and straight-up honest take on Universal’s Bora Bora junket, read this piece by MSN Movies’ James Rocchi. You know what…? I’m just going to paste the whole thing below.
Sun, Surf and Celebrity in Bora Bora
Our writer heads to French Polynesia to talk to the stars of ‘Couples Retreat’
By James Rocchi
Special to MSN Movies
“It is hard (if not impossible) to deal with the internal ethical, intellectual and professional contradictions you feel when you step onto a beach in French Polynesia contemplating how you’re there on a studio’s dime to conduct interviews with the stars of a movie you know, deep in your heart, that you’re going to give a mixed review. The great film critic Pauline Kael said there are two kinds of writing about movies: a good, honest review; and everything else, which is just publicity.
“And if you write and do interviews, set visits or other things that aren’t under the umbrella of good, honest reviews (and these days, if you’re lucky, reviews are just one part of your paycheck as a freelance film critic and journalist), then why not do them well, and with courtesy, and, in this case, for the upcoming Universal release “Couples Retreat,” in the Polynesian beauty of Bora Bora?
“The logic, for Universal Pictures, must have gone something like this: ‘We just made a comedy in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Why not do the press where we shot it, instead of in front of some fake palm fronds at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons?’ This is excellent reasoning (although I hope Paramount doesn’t apply it for its upcoming Shutter Island), and so, I (along with regional and network-level entertainment reporters from TV stations, networks and online outlets all over North America) was invited to Bora Bora to have some fun and, yes, work in the sun.
“It also should be said that there are plenty of things Couples Retreat gets right: From Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell‘s relationship to how there are jokes about marriage in it but that none of the marriages in it are jokes.
“And sure, yes, why not talk about these things with its stars on a fine-grained white-sand shore? I have friends who’ve attended festivals on that festival’s dime (as have I). Press accreditation as a critic means you see movies for free that the average moviegoer pays $12 a pop. And it also means you have to see films involving fat suits or talking animals or sexy assassins or Rob Schneider in ethnic garb. It’s already a complicated, privileged job. Going to Bora Bora is just one more cool, complicated privilege.
“And bear in mind that, even when you’re not in Bora Bora, interviewing famous people always involves a level of social and professional anxiety anyhow, as you wait for an hour to spend five minutes as calmly and as casually as you can under lights so bright they make you blink like a cartoon owl, talking to handsome leading men and elegant starlets so movie-star perfect and effortlessly charismatic that every body image issue or hesitant worry about your conversational skills you’ve ever had in your life swirls behind your eyes like a dark tornado.
“I have simple, uptight rules for how I deal with the social-professional awkwardness of on-camera interviews: You shake hands. You ask about the movie they’re there for, not their hypothetical or rumored upcoming next film. You call people ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ and you use their last names, because they’re not your friends, and at the end you thank them for their time and courtesy. And the interview is not the place for your review, and vice-versa. These may all sound like rationalizations, and they are, but to quote Jeff Goldblum in The Big Chill (playing, it should be noted, a journalist covering the world of celebrity): ‘I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations…ever gone a week without a rationalization?’
“And asking people polite, enthusiastic questions about a movie you’re mixed on isn’t any more or less hypocritical than, say, oohing and aahing over a picture of an ugly baby, or raising your glass at a wedding reception for a couple you don’t think is going to make it in the long haul. As a professional, you tell yourself you can talk to people passionately, intelligently and politely about any film under any circumstances. The only difference with doing it in Bora Bora was doing it under a thick layer of SPF 70 sunblock, applied not only to protect my delicate, raised-in-Canada pallor but also because I suspect no one trusts a tan film critic, much as no one would trust a clean coal miner, as it clearly suggests you’re not spending enough time on the job.
“Bora Bora is near Tahiti; I tried to use Google Maps to get a sense of the exact distance between Los Angeles and it, but my computer just made a grinding noise when I did so. Essentially, Bora Bora is almost twice as far away as Hawaii, and at least a million times more French. While Polynesians settled it in about the fourth century, the French formally made it a protectorate in 1842.
“Getting to the St. Regis resort, which was the main filming location for Couples Retreat, took a nine-hour flight to Papeete airport, then another prop plane flight, then a boat ride from the big island to the resort. This, I mused, is not an itinerary; it’s a dream date with Carmen Sandiego. This was also interrupted by being taken off the small intermediate prop plane because of ‘mechanical problems.’
“In the waiting area, Vince Vaughn waved his arms grandiosely and joked: ‘It’s a surprise — we’re not going to Bora Bora; we’re going to Gary, Indiana.’ I merely thought about how it would probably stink to pull a Buddy Holly on a plane ride with Vince Vaughn, Faizon Love and Jason Bateman, which would no doubt be enshrined in some horrible YouTube clip as The Day the Laughter Died for years to come, if Don McLean‘s lawyers didn’t quash it immediately.
“And, yeah, there are dangers in paradise even without getting on a small prop plane. The St. Regis resort features beautiful villas on piers over the water (you can see them in Couples Retreat, which, as this article and Universal Pictures would like to remind you, is coming to theaters Oct. 9), which means you can dive off your porch into clear, azure, warm water.
“It also means that you can be awoken, as I was one morning, by the 50-kilometer-an-hour winds and the waves they propel, making the whole villa shake, shudder and sway. And paradise is, in many ways, troubled: Tahiti’s only real manufacturing is pearls and panoramas, not petrol, paper products or plastics, so you’re walking around in flip-flops but your ecological footprint has steel-toed boots on. Almost everything you touched or ate had to cross water somehow, and it’s hard not to think of that.
“Aware of this, to be sure, the local government provided each room with a flyer on Bora Bora’s sustainable development practices, which contained enough good news to make you forget it, too, had come on a boat or a plane. And there’s a also a noble tradition of people going to Polynesia and going a little nuts, from Gauguin to Fletcher Christian to the guy who played Fletcher Christian, Marlon Brando. The only thing that edged me toward madness was Radio Bora Bora (or, as the announcers said it, “Rrrrradio Bora Boraaaaaa”), the local Euro-dance station with a six-song playlist I nonetheless couldn’t turn off, even with its affection for the oonst, oonst Cascada version of Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘Because the Night’ and O’Neal McKnight’s ‘Champagne Red Light,’ a rap song about the urban club experience, played every hour, ironically, for a radio audience at least 2,000 miles from the nearest urban club.
“The junket was a fairly unusual mix of activities and interviews; it’s hard to not feel odd when your schedule reads “Interview Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman. Interview Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell. Interview Ralphie from A Christmas Story. (Well, the itinerary didn’t say that about the interview with director Peter Billingsley, but it might as well have.) Oh, and ‘Feed Stingrays.;
“The stingray feeding was one of several activities, along with shark-watching and a picnic trip to Moto Tapu (literally ‘Taboo Island’), which used to be the private property of the Queen of Tahiti. And the shark-watching was fascinating; you’re in the water when the boat guide dispenses chum Richard Dreyfuss-style and then come tiny fish and then come 2-to-3-foot-long lemon sharks and you giggle and gulp. And then you look down to the bottom, through clear tropical waters, to see three lemon sharks the length of a four-door sedan swimming about to look into the hubbub. This, as was said of the prospect of hanging, wonderfully concentrates the mind: I immediately wanted a great meal and a make-out session, which I think was my brain’s way of saying I didn’t want to die. Then I got out of the water, as, really, 10-foot sharks don’t wander into my home to throw food in my direction, and I’d like to keep that level of courtesy reciprocal.
“These opportunities are so that TV reporters can have brief, colorful bits they can make part of their pieces. My working for an online outlet, where brevity is the not only the soul of wit, but also the savior of bandwidth, means it’s unlikely they’ll make it into the final piece. Still, why not go? Swimming with the stingrays was unusual to say the least. As they hustled and bumped over to say ‘hi’ and occasionally eat the offered fish, I told myself that their attentions were kind of like the nudging, gentle curiosity of my cat, if my cat were a scary, cartilaginous, 4-foot-wide leathery shape with a hungry, gummy mouth, dead, glassy eyes and a wicked-looking tail. Again, someone asks you: Stingray feeding, how can one say no? The rays get fed, and you get a unique experience. Some of you may already have extrapolated this principle out to my entire trip, as have I.
“And the trip ended Monday with a ride in an open-sided pontoon boat back to the airport through a torrential rain. A few hours after we left on Monday, a tsunami struck Samoa and killed more than a hundred people, causing property damage and, thankfully, no injuries in Tahiti. We got the first licks of it, and while it’s poetical to suggest that it’s not really an Eden until you’re driven from it by the wrath of an angry God, the fact is that it was just the luck of the draw. A few days earlier and Universal’s publicity weekend could have been a soaked-out mishap instead of what looked like a success.
“And Vaughn bubbled with excitement. And Bateman’s wit stayed mordantly dry in the tropical heat. And Love (who clearly knows how to live) enjoyed sips of something amber between his interviews. Akerman and I filled those awkward, let-me-undo-my-mike-and-go moments after the interview with talk of Canada; I got to ask Kristin Davis and Jon Favreau, in a pop-culture perfect storm moment, which was the more outlandish fantasy about amazing outfits and obscene wealth: Sex and the City or Iron Man?
“And then I flew back to Los Angeles to write my actual review, with the hint of a sunburn and beach sand in the cuffs of the dress pants I wore for my on-camera interviews. It’s normally a weird job, and this time around, it was a little (but not too much) weirder, a brief blast of sun and strangeness proving that these days, Hollywood is everywhere.”