A film review by Craig J. Koban March 2, 2012

WANDERLUST jjj

2012, R, 98 mins.

 

Paul Rudd: George / Jennifer Aniston: Linda / Justin Theroux: Seth / Malin Akerman: Eva / Alan Alda: Carvin / Ken Marino: Rick

 

Directed by David Wain / Written by Wain and Ken Marino

WANDERLUST is a new comedy from David Wain (the director of the very funny ROLE MODELS) and producer Judd Apatow (whose comedic film resume hardly requires introduction).  It also stars the limitlessly charming and unendingly funny Paul Rudd, who is paired with his former THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION co-star, Jennifer Aniston.  

WANDERLUST certainly boasts all-star talent behind the camera and is most definitely an edgy – if not a bit pedestrian at times - hard-R rated bit of unconventional tomfoolery regarding a clash of big city suburbia versus commune-living, free-spirited hippies (or, in their vernacular in the film, “intentional community” dwellers).  Even though the laughs are sometimes grossly uneven at times, the film proves that having a game and endowed cast of proven comic performers can help override even the most glaring of faults. 

Rudd – who also appeared in Wain’s ROLE MODELS – plays George and Aniston plays Linda; they're a yuppie Manhattan couple who dare to partake in the American dream of living the big life in the big city with every available modern convenience at their disposal.  They purchase a loft very small condo that, in their realtor’s industry jargon, is amusingly referred to as a “micro-loft" (she’s played in a brief and understatedly hysterical performance by Linda Lavin).  George and Linda can barely afford their oh-so-tiny dwelling, but they purchase it anyway and move in, but before they have time to celebrate they both hit career rock bottom: George is laid off from his job and Linda’s new documentary about…ahem…penguins with testicular cancer is not picked up by HBO due to its relentlessly preachy and depressing content.   

Realizing that they need a fresh start, George and Linda leave The Big Apple and decide to head to Atlanta to temporarily live with George’s rich, successful, and despicably arrogant brother (Ken Marino, whose very funny at playing very obnoxious people; he also serves as co-writer here).  George takes a job working for his sibling, but when he can’t stand it and his brother’s aggressively smug company any longer, he decides to depart with his wife and head back to a small bed and breakfast styled commune that they stumbled on to while initially on route to Atlanta called “Elysium”. 

This commune of hippie-love, non-violence, public nudity, natural food intake, ample drug use, and all out spiritual harmony is ruled over by its alpha male, so to speak, Seth (a gut-wrenchingly funny Justin Theroux) and its original land owner, Carvin (an equally amusing Alan Alda).  Seth is suave, serenely charming, but creepily unnerving all at the same time, mostly because he’s really a sleaze ball underneath his façade as a soft-spoken leader that’s in touch with both his inner person and with nature around him.  He’s also hopelessly out of touch with modern day advances in technology and culture, and his preaching to George and Linda on the sins of “Betamax” and “fax machines” earns the film some large laughs.  As George and Linda begin to acclimatize themselves to their new commune lifestyle, George slowly begins to despise it whereas Linda has conversely adopted it with a zealot-like passion. 

 

 

Rudd is such an assured on-screen funnyman when it comes to dry deadpan delivery and wily sarcasm that he’s a perfect fit for George, the stiff, urbanized, upper class wannabe that slowly begins to mentally unravel as his wife succumbs to the commune’s intoxicating “Kool-Aid.”  The film also wisely understands how to precisely harness his unique gifts at uproarious improv: There’s a subplot in the film where one of the commune dwellers (a never-been-sexier Malin Akerman) matter-of-factly expresses a desire for George to have sex with her (remember, everything is shared here).  When he finally bolsters up the courage – and gains permission from Linda – to have a one-night tryst with this golden-haired goddess, George proceeds to go to a bathroom mirror to psyche himself up and practice his dirty talking foreplay skills.  It takes a special type of improvisational genius like Rudd to utilize multiple dirty words describing male and female genitalia to the hilariously pornographic extremes that he does in this scene; it’s a rare case where foul language is used as the joke and is funny because of how it’s stated. 

Rudd is also funny as the film’s straight man of sorts to all of the commune’s peculiar sights, like a public nudist that happens to be the commune’s winemaker and resident author; a woman that miraculously manages to endure an unassisted birth and then keeps the placenta in a bowl still attached to her baby a day later; and simply witnessing his wife fully embrace the commune’s didgeridoo-playing, acid-taking, and sexually liberated lifestyle (Aniston is eagerly willing to make herself look foolish when the script calls for it).  Other members of the cast are a hoot as well, like the aforementioned Theroux, whose unpredictable edginess and staunch advocate of his commune’s existence here acts as a nice foil to Rudd’s increasingly befuddled non-believer.  Kathryn Hahn is also engaging as a merrily unhinged dweller that is rancorously suspicious of any outsiders.  Alan Alda - whom with WANDERLUST and his entertaining turn in last year’s TOWER HEIST – seems to be making a bid for a modest film career comeback.  His Carvin is a kind, but batty old coot that believes that money can’t buy anything (no…literally…”it can’t buy anything” as he pathetically tries to tell George at one point). 

Even though WANDERLUST successfully builds on a fairly steady tempo of solid chuckles throughout, there is no denying that the film is slavish to its own hippie-commune clichés, all of which we have seen countless times before.  We get the obligatory jokes about commune drug use, cheerfully consequence-free sex with multiple partners, obsessed vegans, and perhaps far, far too many sight gags revolving around male frontal nudity (funny initially, yes, but when piled up throughout the film it loses its comic luster).  The film’s attempts at social satire are kind of limp-wristed and half-cocked as well and definitely could have benefited from a more cheekily subversive edge.  The film’s ending is kind of overly saccharine and annoyingly tidy, which sort of undermines the rest of the script's raunchy mischievousness.   

Yet, I laughed enough in WANDERLUST, despites its blunders, to give it a somewhat half-hearted, but nonetheless approving recommendation.  And putting Rudd in front of a mirror and letting him loose with scatological three-point zingers with nothing but net generates ample comic mileage every single time.   

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