The gut-busting laughs are sparse, but the chuckles are plenty, and the central romantic narrative is both engaging and enjoyable. Consider it date night approved.
Wanderlust stars Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston as George and Linda, a Manhattanite married couple caught in the rush of yuppie life. Paul works a corporate job he doesn’t really care for, so that Linda can continue her perennial search for a career and life purpose. When a very bad day leaves George without a job and Linda with her creative hopes dashed, the couple realizes their NYC run is over, as they can no longer afford their shoebox apartment in the expensive zip code.
Defeated and depressed, George and Linda pack up their things and hit the road for Atlanta, to shack up with George’s obnoxious brother Rick (Ken Marino, who co-wrote the script) and Rick’s Real Housewives spouse, Marissa (Michaela Watkins). Along the road they stop over at the scenic Elysium Bed and Breakfast, which turns into a (literally) mind-altering experience, as George and Linda discover that the B&B houses a commune of free-spirited and eccentric characters, led by a handsome and charismatic hippie named Seth (Justin Theroux).
After that happy first night, the Elysium gang beg George and Linda to stay and join their community, but the uptight couple isn’t ready to ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ of communal living and free-love just yet. A brief but hellish stay at Rick and Marissa’s house changes all that, and before they know it, George and Linda are right back on Elysium’s doorstep, ready to reject their stressful rat-race existence and embrace the ideals of hippie living.
But when the couple starts to grow in separate directions, they discover that the idealized view of commune life doesn’t quite match up to the reality.
Wanderlust was produced by Judd Apatow and features the mix of heart, quirkiness and raunch that has become the comedic filmmaker’s signature brand. The movie was directed and co-written by David Wain, whose other big film credit, Role Models, is also a heart-meets-raunch comedy that fits hand-in-hand with the comedic stylings of ‘Camp Apatow’ (and also starred Rudd, coincidentally enough). Wain does a pretty good job at the helm, but as is usually the case with this type of comedy, there is a bit of unevenness in the tone of the film, resulting in uneven reactions to the situations and jokes being offered.
This was especially clear in my theater, as the big laughs tended to be sporadic and varied in their appeal. For example: those who were amused by the slapstick comedy weren’t as amused by the multiple Rated-R moments (which include a lot of frontal male nudity, baby birthing and sex humor) – while those who bust a gut at the low-brow raunchy stuff tended to cringe at the moments of sardonic wit or scathing satire. That’s not to say the film on the whole isn’t enjoyable or fun, but the hit/miss ratio of the jokes is higher than most people will want it to be.
What holds Wanderlust together – surprisingly enough – is the story arc of George and Linda’s relationship. The film succeeds more as a date movie than anything else, and the fact that Aniston and Rudd are both likable and pitch-perfect in their respective roles makes it easy to warm to their characters and become invested in their marriage. It’s hard to say whether it’s a positive or negative sign, when a comedy has you sold on the relationship drama of its protagonists, rather than anticipation of the next gag or laugh.
Scene for scene, the movie is buoyed by the cast of outrageous supporting characters, which include a novel-writing, wine-making nudist (Joe Lo Truglio), an interracial love-couple expecting a baby (Lauren Ambrose and Jordan Peele), a hot yoga instructor (Malin Akerman), an elderly burnout (Alan Alda), an angry hippie-fundamentalist (Kathryn Hahn) and an oddball den mother (Kerri Kenney). The individual talents of the cast (combined with Rudd and Aniston’s own considerable comedic chops) keep each of the sketch-like scenes mildly amusing at the very least – though, as stated, the scenes are all over the place in terms of comedy style and tone, and some are definitely stronger than others.
Justin Theroux has a long career as a writer (Tropic Thunder, Iron Man 2), character actor (Your Highness, Six Feet Under), and director (Dedication), but has largely managed to remain a chameleon as far as recognition goes. As Seth, Theroux is as unrecognizable as ever, but definitely steals just about every scene he’s in. The actor perfectly balances his hippie-leader between naivete, delusion and scumminess – but is always humorous, no matter the tone of the scene. People will walk away remembering the character, even if they won’t be able to recognize the face behind the ponytail and bushy beard.
The best way to sum up Wanderlust is with the words “harmless” and “amusing.” The gut-busting laughs are sparse, but the chuckles are plenty, and the central romantic narrative is both engaging and enjoyable. Consider it date night approved.
Wanderlust is now in theaters.
Wanderlust is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use.
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