I must confess, I actually rather liked Wanderlust. I knew what to expect with David Wain at the helm since I had seen Role Models, in which Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott played a painfully funny enforced "big Brother" scenario at the behest of the courts to two troublesome kids. I very much enjoyed it, and the prospect of Judd Apatow being on board for Wanderlust as producer seemed promising too. Basically, I was hoping for more of the same, and I wasn't disappointed. Wanderlust delivers just what you might have expected, an amusing and largely improvised comedy romantic romp. It doesn't take itself too seriously at all, which is a rare gift in comedy these days. This is demonstrated perfectly in one one of the out takes on the extras, where Jennifer Aniston is fielding questions from an inquisitive boy who has never seen a movie before. The boy asks about “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” stating that it “sounds funny”, Aniston dutifully informs the child that it isn't, and perhaps he should look to something else for his first movie. “Requiem for a Dream?” the boy asks, again, she suggests something else might be more appropriate. The seemingly sheltered and thoroughly inquisitive little scamp then asks about “The Ten”, one of David Wain's previous movies, to which Aniston replies that it's painfully un-funny, and one to be avoided. Whilst I tend to agree with that summary of Wains "The Ten", it's this kind of self effacing approach that Wanderlust embraces, and that ultimately gives this harmless romantic comedy it's strong attitude - something from which the movie genuinely benefits, and something that I found enhanced my ability to chill out and enjoy the often grotesque and cringe-worthy comedy that Wanderlust delivers.
It is the tale of a young couple in New York City, desperate struggling to put their roots down and start to build a life together. For George and Linda (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston respectively), the days of rented apartments and Job-hopping need to make way for property purchases and perhaps a family soon after. They're at the stage in life where they need to unshackle themselves from the folly of youth and start to build the rest of their life together. Not something that, in this age of recession, is easy for anyone, let alone the less affluent of the younger couples just starting out, and particularly in New York City. Having overcome their anxiety about taking the leap onto the property ladder, the hapless couple buy a small, one room apartment, or “micro-loft” as it is so accurately described by the real estate agent. It's soon after this that their tale begins to descend into woe as George loses his job suddenly, leaving the couple with no income.
Unsure of what to do, the couple reluctantly decide to sell their micro-loft, up sticks, cut all ties to New York and head for Atlanta to stay with George's rather crude and obnoxious brother, Rick (Ken Marino) until they get on their feet. Along the way, they decide to stop to rest for the evening at a place along the way called Elysium. Turns out, Elysium is, in fact, a hippy commune, or as it's occupants would describe it; an “Intentional Community”. George and Linda, at first apprehensive about the quirky nature of the inhabitants, warm to their gentle and friendly nature, and end up getting involved in a little dope smoking and didgery-doo playing. The following morning as they're about to leave, they're touched by the generosity and sincerity of the parting gifts bestowed upon them by Elysium's friendly hippy inhabitants. Onward to Atlanta.
Upon arrival in the ridiculously pastel and cliched “ticky-tacky” suburb that George's brother's enormous house occupies, it's almost immediately apparent that this is not for them. Rick, played by co writer Ken Marino, is a hilariously awful man with bright salmon coloured Ralph Loren Polo shirts and chino shorts, who takes any opportunity to be grotesquely rude and inappropriate, something that his self confessed alcoholic margarita-swilling trophy wife finds both dismaying yet tiresome. Arguments ensue, and finally George, roused by his brother's self absorbed and self righteous attitude, coupled with what he briefly experienced at Elysium, storms out with Linda in a fit of rage proclaiming that he intends to live each day to it's fullest. And so the couple return to Elysium, and this is really where the movie starts.
It's a romantic comedy, with the emphasis on the comedy more-so than romance. Though more suited to a particular sense of humour, it does bear the hallmarks of a classic slap-stick comedy, with a healthy peppering of toilet based improvisational humour. The premise, once the second act gets going, is a kind of social commentary on a cross section of society's populous, condensed and moulded into a hippie commune scenario. Each of Elysium's members has come from a variety of backgrounds, most seeking to break away from society to look for a new beginning, each bearing his or her own baggage that is delivered with comedy flare throughout the movie. Elysium's borders provide a sanctuary from the outside world, and it's from within these borders that two outsiders in George and Linda, set out discovering the advantages, and disadvantages, of breaking away from the hustle and bustle of mainstream modern life; with hilarious consequences.
There's Alan Alda, who plays Carvin, one of the founding members of Elysium and the patriarch of the commune. Everyone at Elysium pretends not to find him extremely irritating with his incessant reeling off the list of names of the Co-Founders of the commune, again and again. Joe Lo Truglio is quite superb as a nudist wine maker and budding novelist, locked into the idea that to be a naked wine-making novelist is simply the most natural thing in the world. It's difficult not to like him despite his prosthetic wang dangling about for the most part of the movie. Justin Theroux brilliantly plays the Alpha Male of the commune, Seth, who is lauded amongst Elysium's inhabitants with an almost God-like status. He is outstanding as the annoying, yet dark and broody guitar playing hippy wonder-stud. His performance certainly caught my attention, and I found myself wondering why I hadn't seen him in many other movies. After some research I realised that this is largely because he has spent the most part of his career to date on the other side of the production camp, having penned some highly successful movies to date, most notably of late, Iron Man 2 and currently in production, the divisive Zoolander 2, which he is also directing.
Then there's the two main protagonists. George (Paul Rudd), and Linda (Jennifer Aniston).
Paul Rudd is a funny guy. He has natural timing and a very authentic delivery a rare commodity these days. He's one of these comedy actors that makes me wish I was funnier, but I lack the sharp improvisational skills that seem to come so effortlessly to Rudd. His best material tends to come from those moments on set when he freestyles and just lets himself go, and there are some obscenely amusing segments in Wanderlust where we're treated to just that. Be mindful, Rudd's natural ability is a kind of candid comedy, and can genuinely make you cringe, which undeniably can divide audiences, and though I found his mirror scene in Wanderlust to be 2 minutes of absolute comedy gold, one of the people I watched the movie with for the first time was less impressed. It's gross out adult comedy for sure, but it's the kind of comedy that we don't get very often, so unless you're in the easily offended camp, you're likely to find it rather amusing.
Jennifer Aniston is a bit of a mystery in Wanderlust. She just doesn't seem to fit in this movie. Out-comedy'd by her peers, and in some ways, it feels like she was tacked on as the big name to boost box office numbers. Don't get me wrong, she's not bad in it, in fact she has a few stand out moments, particularly in the HBO scene where she's desperately trying to sell her documentary about Penguins with testicular cancer, but she never really shines like the rest of the cast, and at times looks to be riding on the coat tails of Rudd and Theroux's natural comedy ability. Not to say that Aniston doesn't have a touch of the comedy gene; you don't get to play a starring role in one of the most popular comedy sit-coms of all time without being able to pull a laugh here and there, but even then, with a central cast of 5 or 6, the onus for comedy isn't on just one character, which can be forgiving. It's clear that when opposite a natural like Rudd who so readily displays his natural delivery and improvisation skills, she's a little out of her depth.
And so the tale of two New Yorkers struggling to find themselves plays out with a series of somewhat telegraphed yet rather amusing set pieces and a story structure that's formulaic, but not to it's detriment. I've come to expect a very similar formula from Judd Apatow over the years, and while it feels lazy, you'll quickly forget about that while you're enjoying the movie. With hilarious performances throughout, and particularly endearing performances from both Truglio and Alda, there's little to dislike about Wanderlust. It's certainly not for everyone, but if you like a solid, feel-good movie with lots of uncomfortable laughs, you won't go far wrong with Wanderlust.
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