My colleague Vince Mancini wrote an article at Filmdrunk recently wondering if Wanderlust would be “a Paul Rudd/David Wain movie or a Jennifer Aniston movie.” All things considered, that’s as fair a way as any to judge this film: David Wain is perhaps best known for directing Wet Hot American Summer (which we talked about on The Not Just New Movies Podcast), and Jennifer Aniston has spent the past few years in stuff like The Bounty Hunter and Just Go With It. Wain hasn’t completely dodged the studio system, but his main entry into it until now has been Role Models, a comedy with a charming premise and a ton of heart. When it comes down to it, I’d say that Wanderlust is a Paul Rudd/David Wain movie, but just barely – it reaches for the absurd moments of Wet Hot and tries to hook us like Role Models did, but this one never quite accomplishes either, leaving a disappointing movie that, save for a precious few scenes, is utterly unmemorable.
George (Rudd) and Linda (Aniston) live in a tiny New York City apartment for the first ten minutes of the movie, until George’s company gets shut down due to federal investigation and Linda’s documentary about arctic animal genocide doesn’t get picked up by HBO. The two decide to crash with George’s douchey brother Rick (co-writer Ken Marino) and his depressed wife (Michaela Watkins) in Atlanta, but they stop to sleep on the way there and discover Elysium, an “intentional society” (don’t call it a commune) where nudists roam, bong hits are encouraged, and everything is shared – including sexual partners. At first, this lifestyle is shocking to the longtime city-dwellers, but soon they come to realize that staying at Elysium may be the cure for their big city blues.
Like Wain’s other films, the strength of this movie comes in its supporting characters. The people who live at Elysium are wacky and ridiculous – sometimes desperately so – but the comedy works more because of the actors’ delivery than the script itself. Joe Lo Truglio and Kathryn Hahn were standouts, and Justin Theroux was convincing as the easily detestable alpha male of Elysium, competing with Rudd at every turn. Substituting the iconic camp from WHAS for the “intentional society” here unfortunately makes it all the more obvious that Wanderlust can’t measure up. There’s a hint of futility that infects the movie, like watching a young kid wrestle with his much older, stronger brother – he may put up a good fight, but it’s a losing battle. Appearances by Stella and The State members as a local news team were the highlight of the whole film, but sadly they spent all of two or three minutes of total time on screen.
Aniston is a serviceable leading lady this time out, but she could have easily been replaced by a number of other actresses and the movie would have had the same overall effect. Her performance was bland and uninspiring, and she didn’t make me feel like her drastic character shifts were earned at any point. And if you thought Paul Rudd was awkward in I Love You, Man, his work here is borderline unwatchable. Wain pushes him to the limits of human awkwardness, sacrificing all believability of the character just to give the audience that terrible feeling that they’re watching something awful that they can’t look away from. (Those of you who have seen the film will know what I mean – look no further than the mirror scene for the primary example.)
Wanderlust has some funny moments, to be sure, but it’s mostly just a lackluster imitation of Wain’s earlier work, attempting and (for the most part) failing to fit his style of comedy into a mainstream studio film. Until next time…