February 23, 2012

Wanderlust

starstar

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Wanderlust

COMEDY:

United States, 2012

U.S. Release Date:

2012-02-24

Running Length:

1:38

MPAA Classification:

R (Sexual Content, Nudity, Profanity, Drugs)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, Alan Alda, Malin Akerman, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Kathryn Hahn, Kerry Kenney-Silver, Lauren Ambrose

Director:

David Wain

Screenplay:

David Wain & Ken Marino

Cinematography:

Michael Bonvillain

Music:

Craig Wedren

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Okay, Wanderlust has its moments. It's sporadically funny - funny enough to deliver a good laugh or two. The problem is, it doesn't do more than that, and the comedy is inconsistent. Is that reason enough to sacrifice an evening? Wanderlust will likely play better in a packed theater than an empty one - laughter is contagious and, if no one else is laughing, you probably won't either. It's a rare comedy that's good enough to remain humorous without the aid of a "laugh track" and Wanderlust fails to achieve that level.

Wanderlust takes aim at a variety of lifestyles, tossing zingers to the left and right: suburbia's upwardly mobile middle class, those trapped in the big city rat race, and modern-day hippies living in a commune. George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) get to experience all these ways of life in a short span. After buying an overprice Manhattan studio apartment then losing everything when George is laid off and no one is willing to buy the "micro-loft," they pack their belongings and head to Atlanta, where George's brother, Rick (Ken Marino), lives. Along the way, they stumble upon Elysium, an "intentional community" dedicated to living off the land, free love, and non-violence. The leaders are the charismatic Seth (Justin Theroux) and the old-school landowner, Carvin (Alan Alda). George is intrigued but Linda is less-than-impressed. However, after spending a few days of hell living under Rick's roof, they decide to give communal life a try. Predictably, George ends up hating it while Linda "drinks the Kool Aid."

The majority of the jokes and gags cluster around naked men, drugs, and Paul Rudd making faces at himself in the mirror while talking dirty and using "funny" fake accents. I admit it - I laughed a few times, although not as heartily as the man sitting next to me. Recent Judd Apatow movies (this was partially financed by his company and his "producer" credit indicates involvement beyond the use of his name) have fallen into an unfortunate rut. What was fresh around the time of The 40 Year-Old Virgin has become stale. And, strangely for an Apatow production, this one has no heart. The "romantic comedy for men" aspect is absent and any supposed affection between George and Linda is lost in the ether. The characters are flat and their "development" is obvious and perfunctory. Take away that element from this sort of by-the-numbers comedy and you're left with 98 minutes of average filthy jokes.

Paul Rudd is in fine form, recovering nicely from Our Idiot Brother. The same cannot be said of Jennifer Aniston, who has fallen into a stereotype hell from which she seems unable to escape. Simply put, she's not interesting. Part of the problem is that the character is underwritten but Aniston has spent so many years trading on her Friends persona that she no longer seems able to break free and do something interesting. Her finest hour remains The Good Girl, but with every lackluster performance, that shining moment slips further into the rearview mirror. The furor over Aniston's supposed "nude scene" is overblown. Yes, she is topless. No, we don't see anything. Was there reason to expect anything else? It's ultimately irrelevant - the actress' bare breasts would not have improved Wanderlust by even the smallest margin.

Of the supporting actors, the only one who leaves an impression is Justin Theroux, who pours energy into his portrayal of Seth. Looking like a cross between Jesus and Mel Gibson, his wacky, off-kilter performance has the degree of comedic intensity that Wanderlust badly needs. Alan Alda has a few amusing moments but it's a little sad to see what one of TV's once-beloved icons has been reduced to. Surprisingly, Malin Akerman, known for past instances of toplessness, keeps her clothing on. Most of the MPAA's "graphic nudity" is provided Jo Lo Truglio and a bunch of out-of-shape extras.

Although Apatow is listed as a producer, this is more appropriately the fruit of the efforts of director/co-writer David Wain and co-writer Ken Marino. Wain, who has had a long and successful TV career as a writer for MADTv and the creator of Wainy Days, brings some of his unconventional edginess to Wanderlust, but not enough to make this more than a passing distraction. The ending is soft and mushy, undermining attempts at subversive satire of the "American Dream" and the lifestyle choices it gives birth to. Wanderlust is better than the average direct-to-video throw-away, but not by enough to make it worth a full admission price. Without the star power of Rudd and Aniston, it would likely never have achieved a wide release. Even with them, it doesn't warrant one.

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