Mark Reviews Movies

Wanderlust

WANDERLUST

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Wain

Cast: Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, Joe Lo Truglio, Alan Alda, Malin Akerman, Kathryn Hahn, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Jordan Peele, Lauren Ambrose, Ken Marino, Michaela Watkins

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 2/24/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 23, 2012

Comedies with scripts that seem to have been improvised on set by the actors more often than not don't succeed for two reasons: 1.) The cast members themselves aren't particularly funny in their long-winded improv sessions, typically because, 2.) the material itself doesn't have much to offer. It can be a Möbius strip of failure, as the premise depends almost entirely on the actors, who, in turn, aren't given much because they are expected to hold the thing on their shoulders.

So it's a little surprising to see Wanderlust, a movie that is most assuredly improvised in some large part by its cast (based on the outtakes of alternate takes during the end credits and the occasional long-form riffs on the topic at hand), sidestep both of those pitfalls by assembling a truly funny ensemble and giving it material from which they can easily mine humor. Sure, a good number of the jokes are obvious, and that's to be expected from the setup.

The background is a modern-day hippie commune outside of Atlanta, where there are no emotional (trust circles), physical (no doors), or sexual (free love for all) boundaries for any of its members. It would be paradise if it weren't so insufferable.

The at first appropriately and soon after ironically named Elysium certainly seems like paradise to George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston), a married couple who, at the start of the movie, wants to make a firm commitment to living in New York City by buying their first property. It's a "micro-loft," better known as a studio apartment except to a realtor looking to sell it, in the West Village.

After George loses his job when the feds raid his office and arrest his boss and Linda fails to attract a cable network to her documentary about the dying wildlife of the Poles (Her movie—an overblown guilt trip featuring a penguin with cancer and an orphaned polar bear, not to mention a poacher running at a baby seal—gets a bit of screentime; it's an amusing gag), they want to sell their just-purchased place. Suddenly the realtor doesn't know the meaning of the word "micro-loft."

The two decide to stay with George's brother Rick (Ken Marino), whose racist remarks roll trippingly off the tongue, and his wife Marissa (Michaela Watkins), who lets personal doubts slip too easily after her habitual margaritas. Along the way (An extended road trip montage of sing-alongs and fights on repeat), they stop at Elysium, the nearest bed and breakfast, where they flip their car while trying to escape the commune's resident nudist and author Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio), who's apparently only chasing after the couple to greet them and inform them that he is, indeed, a nudist. When their stay with Rick becomes unbearable, George and Linda decide to return to Elysium to escape the regular world for a while.

The de facto leader is Seth (Justin Theroux), who dismissed the world of materialism 20 years ago and still believes laserdiscs and VCRs are the height of technology. Eventually, he becomes the third point in a love triangle also involving George and Linda (As apparent as the eventual revelation is from the start, its suddenness makes it feel like a cheat), but until then, the character humorously embodies the worst parts of the lifestyle and attitudes of Elysium with his New Age hokum (Rain is "nourishment from Mother Nature's teat") and not-adjusted-for-inflation betrayal.

Most of the other inhabitants are relegated to the background for the occasional one-liner. Kathy (Kerri Kenney-Silver) runs the lodging side of the "intentional community" ("Commune" brings to mind hippies smoking pot and playing guitars, one of residents argues as most of the people behind him smoke pot and play guitar); she doesn't know when to let a joke go or how to take the hint that perhaps someone wants some private time when he's sitting on the toilet.

One of the founders still lives there; he's Carvin (Alan Alda), who has an acid-ravaged mind and recites the names of all nine of the commune's founders whenever he brings up the fact that the commune was founded by nine other people (It's often). Eva (Malin Akerman) is Elysium's sexpot, giving a very funny Rudd the chance to stare in the mirror to convince himself to buy into the commune's free love philosophy. Rodney (Jordan Peele), who has the same "maybe not when someone's on the toilet" problem, and his partner Almond (Lauren Ambrose) are expecting their first child. As is necessary whenever there's a pregnant woman introduced in a movie, there is indeed a birth scene; it's played as horrifying for one party and completely natural for the mother—a simple joke, performed well.

There are many gags of that variety, and even when those jokes fall flat, which is prevalent enough to notice, it's not for lack of trying by the cast. For every two or three punch lines that don't land, Wanderlust provides one that is sharply perceptive—and maybe another that is just juvenile enough to work.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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