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Wanderlust A Surprisingly Flat Offering From David Wain

Directed by David Wain
Written by Wain and Ken Marino
Universal, 2012

David Wain has been a part of a great many well-known, critically-successful, but lacking in audience, comedies over the years.  The sketch show The State is beloved by many who watched MTV in the 90s, and his Wet Hot American Summer is a cult classic.  In 2008, Wain hit it big with Role Models, a movie that ended up being way more hilarious than I ever thought it would be from the trailers and ended up being a decent hit.  In many regards, Wain was toiling a lot like Judd Apatow was before The 40-Year-Old Virgin came along.  It’s not surprising that they have finally teamed up here, as Wain’s comic style is close to Apatow’s, although they are in many respects different.

Unfortunately, after the hilarious look at something we never really saw on film before: the world of LARPers and treating them with respect while making fun at the same time, Wain has decided to mine a hippie commune for laughs this go round.  That’s the unique trick to making a comedy like that.  Can you make fun, while having a heart?  I think the heart is there, it’s just the jokes about hippie communes are so old and basically write themselves.  And Paul Rudd navigated this territory a bit in his last comedy, Our Idiot Brother.  That movie also had Kathryn Hahn in a bit part playing a militant hippie.  I’m going to have a hard time distinguishing these two movies over the next decade.

In Wanderlust, George (Rudd) and his wife Linda (Jennifer Aniston, making this an Object of My Affection reunion) are about to start a real New York life living in a “micro-loft” in Manhattan.  He does something with finance, she’s a hopeful documentary producer.  Then, George’s company gets raided by the FBI and he’s let go, and Linda’s documentary on penguins is way too depressing even for HBO.  George’s brother Rick (co-writer Ken Marino) invites him down to Atlanta to live with him.  On the way, they stop at a hippie commune called Elysium for the night and get introduced into the wacky world of sex, drugs, and douchey guitar songs.  Well, that was fun.  On to Rick’s house.

Rick runs a port-a-potty business that earns him six figures.  But his wife (Michaela Watkins, stealing every scene she’s in) is obviously unhappy and they have a bratty-ass kid.  It’s not too long before we realize that Rick is a complete and total dick, and George and Linda decide to go back to the commune.  The unofficial leader of the place is Carvin (Alan Alda), who can’t stop talking about his original friends that started Elysium.  Somewhere, he’s buried the original deed to the land, which is important because Georgia is about to build a casino there if he can’t find it.

George and Linda meet all the characters: Seth (Justin Theroux) is the way-too-hippie-for-his-own-good dickbag with obvious hots for Linda, Eva (Malin Akerman) is the way-too-hot-for-a-hippie-commune passed-around sex chick, there’s an interracial couple expecting a baby (Jordan Peele, who recently got a show on Comedy Central, and red-head cutie Lauren Ambrose), there’s the whacked-out-of-her mind druggie chick (Reno 911’s Kerry Kenney-Silver), the nudist author (Joe Lo Truglio, another Wain/Apatow regular), and of course, there’s the militant hippie girl I alluded to before (Kathryn Hahn).

The plot is basically, will they want to stay at the commune, if they do, will the marriage survive…and will the commune itself be saved or be turned into a casino in the end?

The movie has way too many obvious jokes that are beaten down mercilessly, and have already been beaten down mercilessly in other films.  The movie isn’t terrible, it’s not great.  I get the feeling that on cable this will play better, because as-is, this isn’t a raucous night at the movies where 200 people are laughing with you in an auditorium.  There are some funny moments.  There’s a very Wainy moment when two characters rip up a piece of paper and then burn the pieces one by one, and one guy says, “It would have been better just to burn this in the first place.”  It sort of reminded me of that throwaway line from Wain himself in Role Models where Seann William Scott is lying naked outside a tent on the ground and he says, “That’s just a case of…guy on the ground.”  Also, Paul Rudd’s talking to himself in a mirror just before possibly having sex with Eva is priceless.  It’s funny and pretty creepy all at once.

The unfortunate part of this movie is that it doesn’t cover new ground, it has a too-familiar story, and it’s obvious that generating genuine laughs became forced.  I expect more from all the talent involved.  Also, a side note: this movie was partially advertised with “Jennifer Aniston Goes Nude!” and then a story came out last week saying, “Jennifer Aniston’s Nude Scenes Have Been Cut!”  I like Aniston, wouldn’t mind seeing her nude, but to me, you’ve got the wrong actress if they are uncomfortable with racier parts being shown.  It wasn’t the first time–Horrible Bosses had that same claim, only to have the rug pulled out at the last minute.  One of the scenes in this movie was definitely a nude scene before, but the other scene that was cut that I thought was really funny in the trailer was the one where George comes back to a bedroom to find four people in bed and Linda saying, “You just missed it, it was the most beautiful thing ever.”

Comedy is destroyed by vanity, and I think Aniston has a little too much of that, and it changes the movies she’s in.  I know that reads like, “I really wanted to see Jennifer Aniston’s boobies and I’m disappointed I didn’t,” and that’s fair, but making creative decisions and tugging the director this way and that about certain things causes a pulled-punches approach to comedy that ends up making it less impactful.  And I really wanted to see those boobies.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: February 24, 2012, 12:40 pm

I had a bad feeling about this one. I’m sure I’ll still catch it at some point and hopefully I won’t be too dissapointed. Love “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Role Models;” I also like “The Ten” quite a bit more than most people. If you want to see Aniston’s boobs check out “The Good Girl.”

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: March 1, 2012, 12:55 pm

I did see The Good Girl…I don’t remember Aniston’s assets being on amazing display there, but maybe I just forgot.

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