Comedies always get the short end of the stick. They are held to far more exacting standards than the insufferable, weepy, heroic Hollywood fare that gets a pass because it is serious, drecky drivel. This movie, directed by David Wain, produced by Judd Apatow, and written by Wain and Ken Marino, has a very robust renegade spirit that pokes fun at our materialistic obsessions as well as our accompanying fake holistic mishegosses. The movie is slightly undercooked but the bilious sentiments against American consumerism in the form of “microlofts” or McMansions and the equally crazy strain of frenzied organic living is bracing and dark enough to give this zany film my seal of approval.
Wanderlust is the fish out of water story of two driven Manhattanites, George and Linda, played by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, who can’t afford to live in Christopher Street anymore and end up in some sort of hippie commune.
Linda is a documentarian dealing with testicular cancer in penguins. Her rejection scene at HBO smacks of a writer’s real bitterness at the finicky demands of American entertainment conglomerates. George works at a firm where the boss is taken out in handcuffs (as if!). They are soon unable to make ends meet.
So they go to Atlanta (shorthand for hell) to his brother’s McMansion. This is where the writers let their bile flourish against pretty much everything that is wrong with this country. The brother (Ken Marino) is a horrifying racist boor and the wife (Michaela Watkins, spectacular) is deeply miserable, almost to the point of spousal abuse, so she has a Margarita machine and uses it with the same zeal some people use juicers. The house itself is a riot of bad taste and too many enormous flat screen TVs. The art direction is priceless.
Running away from family, George and Linda end up at a hippie commune full of inspired bit players, including a very funny, relaxed and spot-on Alan Alda as the grand old hippie who runs around in a motorized wheelchair. Justin Theroux, (yes, dear readers, I paid close attention to his scenes with Aniston, and the spark seemed to be there allright), plays Seth, the commune’s leader. He does all kinds of crazy things with his mind’s energy but looks uncannily like Charles Manson, and is almost as creepy. Theroux plays it straight so he’s quite funny. Malin Ackerman, Kerry Kinney (from that show I love, Reno 911) Kathryn Hahn and Lauren Ambrose and are all fantastic as women in various degrees of hippie oblivion.
I adore Paul Rudd, who in this film has a terribly filthy moment in front of a mirror where he is brave and hilarious. Just as he is effortlessly funny, charming, handsome and perfect, Jennifer Aniston tries really hard to relax, but she just can’t. Linda is supposed to be uptight, but Aniston is too tightly wound and uncomfortably self-conscious. She looks pinched at all times, even when her character finally relaxes into the hippie life. I don’t dislike her, but her internal drama, whatever it is, is very distracting. That woman needs a massage or a toke or something.
The movie has some very inspired bits and others that fall flat, but I really loved how dark and satirical it is. It’s about hypocrites on both sides of the divide, and I really welcome a healthy distrust of the holistic, yogic, karmic, tantric madness that is running rampant (and is as marketed to death) in this country.
Comedy pushes boundaries and if it does so, it should do it with panache. The more obvious bits where the filmmakers go through the motions of pushing it (perhaps unaware that they are far more radical with their more subtle stuff) are a nudist guy whose dick hangs out for all to see, and a completely bizarre and misdirected stampede of old and sagging nudists that in order to really work, requires far more verve than that displayed by the director and the editor, who seem to have lost their nerve staging it. That bit really lacks the skill of the rest of the movie, but Wanderlust gets brownie points for trying. It’s the influence of nude wrestling scene, I suspect, except that Sasha Baron Cohen is truly fearless.