Josh Reviews Wanderlust!
In Wanderlust, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) find their New York lifestyle overturned when George’s firm goes under and Linda’s depressing documentary about penguins gets rejected by HBO. With no jobs and no way to afford their apartment (tiny though it might be), the two are forced to leave the city so George can get a job working for his brother, Rick (Ken Marino). On the way, though, a small mishap (involving an encounter with a wine-drinking nudist played by Joe Lo Truglio and their car flipping over), they’re forced to spend the night at a place called Elysium. At first George and Linda assume Elysium is a rural bed and breakfast, though they quickly discover it’s a commune (or “intentional community” as the denizens call it) inhabited by an eclectic bunch of free-spirited men and women. They’re oddballs, but they all seem to have achieved a certain peace and happiness that George and Linda have never known. Is this a better lifestyle for them than the hustle and bustle of big-city modern life?
Wanderlust was directed by David Wain (who also directed the very funny Role Models) and written by Mr. Wain and Ken Marino. I really enjoyed Role Models, and as I mentioned in Monday’s post I’ve become a huge fan of Ken Marino based on his work in Party Down. So I was interested in Wanderlust, and the film’s stellar cast was an added bonus.
The film did not disappoint. There’s nothing dramatically revelatory in the movie, and I can’t say that mining humor from the hippie lifestyle is a particularly original idea. But I found Wanderlust to be a very funny, weird, and even sweet film, one that I quite enjoyed.
Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are both strong in the lead roles. Neither actor strays too far from his/her comfort zone character type, but in a way that works for the film as we start from a place of feeling like we know and like these two people. Both George and Linda are normal enough characters that they work as audience surrogates when they encounter all of the weirdness at Elysium. But Mr. Rudd and Ms. Aniston are also skilled enough comedic performers that they’re able to give George and Linda some surprising weirdness of their own, whether it’s George’s increasingly insane way of motivating himself in the mirror before trying to have sex with the beautiful Eva (Malin Akerman), or Linda’s strategy for halting the groundbreaking for a casino that certain businessmen are trying to construct on Elysium’s land.
But while Mr. Rudd and Ms. Aniston are strong leads, the film rises or falls depending on how funny and interesting the Elysium denizens are, and in this respect Wanderlust does very well. Justin Theroux turns in another terrific, deranged performance (he was so great as the villain Leezar in Your Highness — click here for my review) as the hairy, often bare-chested Seth, the de facto leader of the Elysium inhabitants. Mr. Theroux gets all the film’s best moments, in my opinion. And I just could not stop laughing every time I saw those weird sticks or chopsticks or whatever it was that he had in his hair. Joe Lo Truglio spends the entire movie naked as the nudist Wayne, and while much of the humor from his performance was drawn simply from that continuing and omnipresent sight gag, that should not detract from his brave and very, very funny performance. Mr. Lo Truglio has really grown on me over the past few years, with a series of strong supporting comedic appearances in films like Paul (click here for my review) and I Love You, Man (click here for my review). Malin Akerman (the Silk Spectre II in Watchmen — click here for my review) is the gorgeous, sensual Eva, who takes an immediate interest in George. A version of this movie could exist in which Eva is the main source of tension between George and Linda. Luckily, the film didn’t go that route, though that does leave Ms. Akerman with less to do in the film that I’d have imagined. Still, she’s a lot of fun and is able to bring some interest to what, on paper, could have been the most cliche of the hippie characters, the bimbo who’s into free love. Kathryn Hahn (the best thing about How Do You Know — click here for my review of that film) plays Karen. In contrast with Eva, she takes an immediate DIS-like to George, and Ms. Hahn is equally funny when she’s detesting George as when she starts to turn around on him towards the end of the film. Then there is the great Alan Alda, who plays the wheelchair-bound founder of Elysium, Carvin. There’s a running gag about the slightly-senile Carvin constantly reciting the names of the nine co-founders of Elysium, and Mr. Alda sells the punchline every single time. It’s a great performance.
I appreciated the film’s strong narrative choice to allow George and Linda to leave Elysium after their first night there, only to choose of their own volition to return after a few hellish days staying with George’s brother. I was expecting the film to keep coming up with one cockamamie reason after another why the couple would be trapped in the commune, but it’s much more interesting and unexpected that they were able to leave and then made the choice to return.
The strong narrative falters, though, towards the end. (Small SPOILERS ahead here.) After setting up an interesting dilemma for George and Linda (in which they were clearly unhappy in NYC, but also are able to see the limitations to the rustic life in Elysium), I thought the film took the easy way out by making Seth evil and allowing George and Linda to magically create their own perfect jobs for themselves. It just seemed way to easy and false of an ending to me. The film doesn’t shy away, in the beginning, from the tough reality of life today — George and Linda can’t sell their apartment because no one is buying, and George is unable to find another job after getting laid off, because no one is hiring. So then suddenly they’re able to go into business for themselves and become an immediate success, and they’re able to make enough money to support their lifestyle? That’s a nice fantasy, but I didn’t buy it.
The film was entertaining enough overall, though, that this didn’t ruin it for me. Wanderlust is a funny film, well-written and with a terrific cast that are a lot of fun together. Particularly in the doldrums of February, this was an entertaining diversion!