Movie Review: Wanderlust (2012)
Wanderlust is nothing if not a comedy of its time, which bites both ways. Considering that we’re still struggling through the Great Recession, it makes sense that a well-to-do New York couple would find themselves cast out of their pricey West Village microloft, shunned by the baristas at their high-priced coffee shops, and cast out from their cramped, hectic corner of the American dream. It also makes sense that, with their backs against the wall, the two would leave the city, seeking employment (and enlightenment) elsewhere. When Wanderlust kicks, it’s because the weight of the world doesn’t merely bear down on George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston); it crushes them.
George works at a powerful Manhattan brokerage office and is on the verge of a big promotion. Linda, who has floated her way through several artsy callings, believes she has found herself as a documentary filmmaker. Minutes before meeting with the boss, George’s firm is shut down by the government, its assets seized by the FBI. (Isn’t that just the way?) In presenting her documentary to the big shots at HBO, Linda learns that networks known for sex, violence, and vampirism don’t really want to see movies about penguins with testicular cancer. Having both been dealt severe blows—and with the real estate market at an all-time low—the two pack up their car and go to Atlanta, where George’s brother Rick (Ken Marino) has offered him a job.
Rick is successful, but a jerk. He owns a port-a-potty business that allows him to buy a huge house and ignore his suffering wife and burgeoning brat of a kid. As George and Linda are nice people, they hardly last a day in that house. As luck has it, the two had just spent the night at Elysium, a bed and breakfast run by a kindly tribe of hippies for over 40 years. They spent the night smoking weed and playing music with the commune, having the most fun either of them had experienced in awhile and, rather than suffer Rick and his soul-crushing data entry job, the two decide to move in with the hippies. As George puts it, living there gives them a chance to be happy everyday.
It’s when George and Linda move in that Wanderlust loses its way, offering a thoroughly modern, thoroughly bland take on hippies and hippie culture that might have worked had the couple’s stay at Elysium been a pit-stop, assuming you’re somehow unfamiliar with the Hollywood trope. Collectively, the gang running Elysium are granola-eating vegans, forever far-out on one high or another. The best of them is Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio), a nudist winemaker and aspiring novelist. The rest are obvious, shouty caricatures, expertly versed in acoustic guitar, espousing free love, crying at the death of a fly. Group forefather Carvin (Alan Alda) is a respite from all of this, sneaking away from the compound for a steak dinner, so laid back he can’t remember where he placed the deed to Elysium, which he needs to save the compound from a new casino’s wrecking ball.
Elysium is run by Seth (Justin Theroux), a passive-aggressive hippie messiah skilled in fields ranging from Spanish guitar to capoeria. At first, he’s extremely welcoming of the couple, inviting them to stay in the commune as long as they want. Linda quickly falls under his spell, and his goal becomes separating her from George. Seth isn’t quite a villain, but it’s hard to see what the people in the commune see in him, or how Linda would fall for such a dippy lunatic. So much of Wanderlust depends on Seth’s magnetism, but it just doesn’t translate. Seth, like the rest of the commune, is a caricature. His arc elicits a shrug of the shoulders, and that’s pretty much it.
Ultimately, Wanderlust never finds a balance between the oddball comedy of its premise and the everyman charm of Paul Rudd, which was something director David Wain did very well in 2008′s Role Models. The idea of a New York couple finding themselves in odd circumstances is a good one, and the occasional joke really hits. The problem, save for all the jokes that don’t hit, is that Wanderlust has nothing to say about anything—the greed and corruption that propels much of the plot, corporate or otherwise, is merely topical background for a relationship that neither character seems particularly interested in fighting for beyond going through your standard romantic comedy conventions. Its potential is obvious at times, but Wanderlust is content being half-baked. In a way, that’s fitting.
Wanderlust. Directed by David Wain. With Paul Rudd (George), Jennifer Aniston (Linda), Justin Theroux (Seth), Malin Akerman (Eva), Joe Lo Truglio (Wayne), and Alan Alda (Carvin). Released February 24, 2012, by Universal Pictures.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.