Movie Review: Wanderlust
Director: David Wain
Reviewed: 12 March 2012
jamesintexas rating--**1/2 (4 Stars = Highest Rating)
Wanderlust is Paul Rudd's movie. And I like Paul Rudd. Here, director David Wain wisely focuses on Rudd more than Jennifer Aniston, half of a power couple from NYC who purchase, lose, and abandon their micro-loft in the West Village in the span of about five screen minutes. George loses his job because his company is shut down by the Feds, presumably. Linda fails to get HBO on board with her documentary on penguins and testicular cancer. On their sojourn to Atlanta to live with a loathsome brother Rick (played unctuously by Ken Marino), George and Linda alternate singing and fighting, brilliantly captured in a two minute montage of the emotions of a long car ride. When the drive becomes overwhelming, they pull off the road, and instead of traveling down a small road to a Deliverance-style confrontation, they encounter nudist Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio) who helpfully tries to direct them but ends up causing a car accident. So, the couple stay overnight in Elysium, a commune led by the daffy Seth (a scene-stealing Justin Theroux), salty Carvin (Alan Alda, quite good), among other recognizable faces.
And thus, they consider joining the cult, rejecting the outside world and committing fully to living there instead of depending on George's brother Rick's insulting generosity.
Wain's positioned Elysium as an alternate lifestyle in direct opposition to the kind of impersonal big-city existence established in the first five minutes of the film. There are truth circles, lots of hallucinogenic drugs, the specter of free love, vegetables, yoga, and the omnipresent site of Wayne wandering around starkers. In an establishing shot one morning, I believe it is their first morning, Wain shows the entire compound in all of its glory: goats and horses wandering around, people working with nature, Seth's shouting out to the world against war. Wain satirizes this kind of existence, but his players are loving at all times. There are small undercurrents of menace at times, but in general, the performers commit to their characters and their bits or scenes work. Kathryn Hahn's angry cult-member seems consistently on the edge of lashing out; Kerry Kenney's clueless mama bear Kathy consistently delivers some of the funniest line readings. Lauren Ambrose glows as a pregnant cult-member (it took me the entire movie to remember her from Six Feet Under).
Theroux dominates this movie in a quiet way. His character is decidedly the leader and the mouthpiece for the group's philosophy which he espouses in a way that seems trapped in the late 80's; he lists the litany of technology that besets the couple and keeps them from self-actualization-walkmen, diskmen, and at one point he's amazed by Rudd's car CD-player). His quiet confidence juxtaposed against Rudd's manic nervousness reveals a choice that Linda has to make. Should I stay or should I go when George reveals a desire to retreat to NYC?
And that conflict is what I think ultimately pins the movie down and keeps it from true greatness. A radical character shift in Seth precipitates final confrontations and pay-offs that do not work (though I love the idea that he betrays his principles for a whole "$11,000"). There's a subplot involving Rudd's inability to abandon his monogamy that struggles. Rudd, gamely, indulges in the same sort of "Slappa-da-bass, mon!" improvisation that made I Love You, Man so wonderful. His three minute extended sequence of dirty talk is a highlight for the film. Yet, the film never congealed for me, it never moved beyond a series of successful sequences or bits.
I like how cars end up in the pond without ever being shown how they arrived there.
I like Michaela Watkins' bitter sister-in-law character and her commitment to solving her unhappiness.
Jo Lo Truglio is winning, even when nakedly discussing his upcoming book about a Beltway insider.
Shoot, State and Stella alums Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and director Wain are winning in two short sequences satirizing a morning news team.
However, the movie loses its steam with the final third. The laughs become less frequent. George's final fight with Theroux is just silly (considering his commitment to his body and capoeira), and both Aniston and Malin Ackerman seem underused or curiously sidelined.
Wain displays the love for a community in this film that dominated Wet Hot American Summer and to a certain extent Role Models. I wish that he pulled this film together more; it felt like at times, a better idea for an entire television season of bits and mini-stories (ala Portlandia) than a cohesive film. But, I will keep enjoying and laughing at his films.