Thursday, June 28, 2012

DVD Review: Wanderlust

Wanderlust  Directed by: David Wain.
Written by: David Wain & Ken Marino.
Starring: Paul Rudd (George), Jennifer Aniston (Linda), Justin Theroux (Seth), Alan Alda (Carvin), Malin Akerman (Eva), Ken Marino (Rick), Joe Lo Truglio (Wayne), Kathryn Hahn (Karen), Kerri Kenney-Silver (Kathy), Lauren Ambrose (Almond), Michaela Watkins (Marissa), Jordan Peele (Rodney), Linda Lavin (Shari), Jessica St. Clair (Deena Schuster), Todd Barry (Sherm).

The best scenes in Wanderlust are the opening ones. A New York couple, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston), are tired of renting, and decide to buy a studio apartment (or microloft as the sales agent calls it) – and finally commit to something. And, of course, that’s when everything goes wrong. The company that George works for is invaded by the Feds, and he finds himself out of work. Linda, who has bounced from one career to the next rapidly, has a disastrous meeting with HBO, who does not want to air her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer. Soon, they have nothing, and hit the road for Atlanta to stay with George’s obnoxious brother Rick (Ken Marino), who has made a fortune renting Port-a-Pottys. In these few, short opening scenes, Wanderlust has the feel of a 1930s screwball comedy, with Rudd as the straight laced, logical half of the couple, and Aniston as the loopy free spirit. The scenes also set out what you would think would be a rather incisive, timely comedy about the recently unemployed – and indictment of the economic system that insist on separating everyone into winners and losers. Had the movie continued in this vein, with this kind of sharp wit, it could have been one of the best comedies of the year. Sadly, it doesn’t.

For a movie called Wanderlust, there is very little wandering in this film. Yes, the couple go on a road trip to start the film, but before they can get to Atlanta, they stop off at what they think is a normal Bed & Breakfast – and it turns out to be a hippie commune called Elysium. The patriarch of the Elysium, Carvin (Alan Alda), who would love to tell you who he bought the property with back in 1971, and very little else. That night they spend at Elysium is so peaceful and refreshing, that they decide it beats the hell out staying with Rick, who is an insufferable asshole, and dive headlong into this hippie paradise.

I enjoyed much of Wanderlust, and yet felt the movie didn’t really push far enough. In many ways, it feels like a comedy that could have been made in the early 1970s. Although many of the jokes about the hippies and their lifestyle are funny, they could have been made in way back then. Surely, being a hippie has progressed since then. Just look at the Occupy Wall Street-ers, who invoke the spirit of the 1960s protesters, all the while half of them are drinking Starbucks and playing with their I-Pads. There is rich material to be mined here, but Wanderlust pretty much takes the easy way out. The movie could have been a sort of update of Albert Brooks`Lost in America, about a married couple who embrace the romanticism of Easy Rider – and dropping out of society – until they lose all their money, and are faced with actually living like hippies with no money. But the movie doesn’t have that much guts – especially in the way the movie ends, which seems completely inappropriate for what comes before it.

Having said that, Wanderlust is often very funny. Rudd is a perfect straight man, looking on the hippies, and what they doing with his wife, with increasing incredulity as the movie progresses. He is at his weakest when the movie lets him let loose – like an awkward scene where he practices his come-on lines which goes on far too long, and wasn’t funny to begin with. Jennifer Aniston has fun as the more free spirited of the two – getting to be genuinely loopy at points. Justin Theroux is terrific as the lead hippie, who spouts off insane things in such a calm, confident voice that he sounds convincing. And although I feared Joe Lo Trugilo`s role as a `nudist winemaker`would be one note, it actually does develop into something genuinely surprising.

Wanderlust is not a great comedy – it needed more guts to be that. But it is a pleasant movie, one that makes you laugh more than most comedies. Yet, I still couldn’t help but be somewhat disappointed in it. The opening of the film suggested that Wanderlust might just be going somewhere truly daring – but the movie just ends up recycling the old ideas of not being able to run away from your problems – and how even something that seems so free (like the hippie commune) is simply another prison, just like the one Rudd and Aniston just fled. It`s not a bad movie by any means – just one that needed to push itself harder, and find some jokes to tell that couldn’t have been told 40 years ago.

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