Director: David Wain
Starring: Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, Alan Alda, Malin Akerman, Lauren Ambrose, Jo Lo Truglio, Kathryn Hahn, Ken Marino, Michaela Watkins
Running Time: 98 min.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
Watching Wanderlust I was overcome with the strange feeling I've seen it before. Comedies with the name "Judd Apatow" stamped on it, either as writer, director or producer are pretty common these days. They've also become interchangeable, following a safe, standard formula without ever flying too far off the rails. Lessons learned, man-child grows up, couple grows closer blah blah blah. This time, despite only getting a producing credit, his recipe is still there. Wanderlust adheres strictly to it but what makes its execution especially disappointing this time around is that writer/director David Wain and actor/co-writer Ken Marino are capable of so much more. MTV's The State, Wet Hot American Summer and most recently the hilarious Childrens Hospital on Adult Swim, have proven it. At this point they're masterminds in their genre who should be making a movie that makes fun of this movie, so it's no coincidence this one's best moments come when they do just that. If it's okay with you I'm just going to pretend that everything that did work is due to them and what doesn't can be attributed to Apatow dragging them into his office, pointing a gun to their heads and screaming, Didn't you see Knocked Up, Funny People and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him To The Greek and Bridesmaids? We're doing this MY way. We're gonna make MONEY!" It probably didn't go down exactly like that but that imagining such a scene is funnier than many of the uninspired events that transpire in this film isn't encouraging.
Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston co-star as married couple George and Linda, who end up having to sell their recently purchased "micro-loft" apartment in New York City due to George losing his job and Linda's documentary ("An Inconvenient Truth meets March of the Penguins") being passed on by HBO. The scene of Linda's presentation to the cable executives is an example of one of the little comedic asides that work. It's always the random, seemingly throwaway stuff that creates the most laughs, which is typical of Wain's writing. That's also true of their detour to stay with George's arrogant brother Rick (Marino) and his wife Marisa (SNL castoff Michaela Watkins). Rick is such a jerk and his scenes so squirm-inducing I'm convinced only Marino, the most underrated comic actor around, could have made this funny instead of mean-spirited and ill-placed. Things settle into a more familiar (and somewhat disappointing) groove when George and Linda arrive at a hippie commune called Elysium, which is run by the free-spirited Seth (Justin Theroux). The other inhabitants include his girlfriend Eva (Malin Akerman), nudist Wayne Davidson (Jo Lo Truglio) and its cranky owner Carver (Alan Alda). Almost immediately, the uptight, sarcastic George has problems fitting in while the flakier, more open-minded Linda forms a close bond with Seth, endearing herself to the residents of Elysium. What's supposed to be a break from the stresses of everyday life soon threatens to tear their marriage apart.
Theroux's character and performance is easily the most humorous aspect of the movie, especially his obsession on abandoning what he thinks passes for modern technology (faxes, floppy discs, VCR's, 2-way pagers). It's the by far the funniest running gag, made that much funnier by the Theroux's oblivious delivery of it. There's also a sub-plot involving a local news team that gets some laughs, as does the use of hallucinogens and the complications of George and Linda's newly "open" marriage. The more obvious stuff, like Jo Lo Truglio's nudity and evil developers plotting to build a casino on the land, doesn't. That this feels like the seventh time comedy regulars Rudd and Aniston have have been paired together when it's actually the second (I think) is indicative of a larger problem. Rudd's talented enough to be headlining in any genre but seems stuck playing the sad sack husband in every other comedy released every year. He's likable as always, but deserves better, or maybe at least something that's radically different. An entire book could probably be written on the stops and false starts in Aniston's career-long quest to become a full-fledged "movie star," and this role's a great example of why that title still eludes her. After a strong, against type comedic turn in Horrible Bosses, she's back to playing the same, tired Aniston part of either the girl-next-door or bland wife. This time she's actually both so it's back to business as usual for her. But none of the actors are really to blame. You could have plugged anyone into the roles and the result would have been the same, if not a little worse, since these two at least know their way around the material.
David Wain is incapable of making a movie that's completely bad, but this must be the closest he's come. The most frustrating aspect is that many of the jokes work, but they're at the mercy of a story structure we're all too familiar with. It probably would have worked better if it had literally no story at all. Maybe just a series of random, sketch related vignettes or segments stretched out to 90 minutes about life on the commune. It's amazing how many little, random details are funny, but are squeezed into a story that's too safe and predictable. It's R rating can be attributed to nudity and little else. Considering the talent involved, Wanderlust should be much better than it is. Not to mention crazier. Everyone involved should probably take it as a compliment that expectations were high enough for this to be classified as a genuine disappointment.