THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Wanderlust had me laughing enough that I didn't fully realize what it was saying until it was over. The movie makes a rather insightful point about marriages, yet wraps it up in the guise of a raunchy comedy. I'm a big fan of a couple of director/co-writer David Wain's previous films, Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer, so I fully expected to laugh. What caught me by surprise was the shrewdness with which he explores modern day discontentment. While not without its flaws, Wanderlust is a funny and intriguing adult comedy.
Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston play George and Linda, a Manhattan couple looking to make their life together a little classier. Linda, a failed documentary filmmaker (among other things), convinces George, an unhappy office drone at a financial firm, to buy a “micro-loft” in a trendy part of the city. They really can't afford it but, like many couples, they put their wants before their needs. When George loses his job, they subsequently lose the apartment and decide to head to Altanta, where George's douchebag brother Rick (Ken Marino) will give him a job. On the way down, they stay at a bed and breakfast, which is part of a hippie commune called Elysium. After finally getting to Atlanta and finding themselves unhappily back in the proverbial rat race, George and Linda decide to chuck it all and return to the commune, where everyone made them feel so warm and welcome.
While it seemed ideal during their brief stay, day-to-day life at Elysium is a little kooky. Personal possessions - and doors - are frowned upon, people walk around without clothes, and there's a distinct “free love” vibe. (You don't even want to know how a baby is delivered there.) A comely group member named Eva (Malin Ackerman) offers herself up to George; the place's resident guru, Seth (Justin Theroux), similarly has his sights set on Linda. Meanwhile, the commune's owner, Carvin (Alan Alda), is fighting to prevent a casino from being built on the land. George begins to have second thoughts about leaving conventional society behind; Linda, on the other hand, thrives in the new environment. Suddenly, the couple is at cross purposes.
Although it sounds like little more than a wacky city-folk-meet-hippies comedy, Wanderlust is actually a little deeper than that. It depicts the desperation that sets in when husbands and wives get so obsessed with climbing the socio-economic ladder that they lose sight of themselves. This, in turn, makes them vulnerable to quick fixes or overly simplistic solutions. Linda and George have tried keeping up with the Joneses and found it harder than expected. In a knee-jerk decision, they abandon their world altogether, embracing instead a “simple” lifestyle that is actually anything but. Having an incisive idea like that at its center makes many of the jokes in Wanderlust edgier than you might expect. Wain has a knack for absurd humor; he mixes that well with the story's basic theme. Not every joke works, but those that do provide moments of comedy gold.
Rudd and Aniston do a terrific job of showing how their characters react in varying ways to their unorthodox surroundings. At times, George and Linda are attracted to what Elysium has to offer, while other times they are repelled. Sometimes they have very opposite feelings, which leads to scenes of humorous marital frustration. This is great casting, because both stars have a down-to-earth, identifiable quality about them, particularly Rudd. Watching them try to hold on to their marriage in the midst of pursuing this Very Bad Idea is amusing.
The supporting players provide an appropriately bizarre counterpoint to George and Linda's soul-searching. Justin Theroux is especially hilarious, portraying a radically out-of-touch guy who rails against the evils of VCRs and two-way pagers. Every time he comes onscreen, the movie is at its liveliest. Jordan Peele is also a standout as Rodney, a guy whose devotion to his pregnant wife occasionally goes a bit too far.
As with most comedies of this nature, the jokes can sometimes be hit or miss. Wain isn't afraid to indulge in silliness which, of course, yields mixed results depending on which way your taste for silliness leans. I wish, too, that characters played by Kathryn Hahn and Lauren Ambrose were developed more fully. They seem like potentially valuable assets comedy-wise, yet don't get a whole lot to do.
Some will accuse Wanderlust of playing it safe with its ending, but I'm not sure I agree. I think where/how George and Linda end up is fitting. There's something almost radical in its conservatism, if that makes any sense. On the whole, Wanderlust provided me with five or six really huge laughs, a handful of smaller ones, and a bunch of chuckles. The story also says that the only real way to be happy is to figure out who you really are and be like that, because a lifestyle affectation of any sort just brings confusion. And aren't a lot of us confused enough as it is?
( out of four)
Wanderlust is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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