Wanderlust: A Movie to Cure It
by Sandra Olmsted
Most adults, at one time or another, have wished to run away and return to a simpler life, especially in tough times. As director David Wain’s movie Wanderlust starts, one gets the impression that it will offer some insight and laughs on that dream of escape from the problems such as job loss, financial ruin, and lack of direction. Unfortunately, Wain and his co-screenwriter Ken Marino seem to believe that the audience is so stupid and hard up for sensationalized cursing and sexless nudity that these filmmakers can fill the screen with little that is funny or affecting.
The movie opens with George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston, who, for an actress with so much acting ability, seems unable to pick a good script) in a realtor’s office going over the pros and cons of buying a “micro-loft” in the West Village. (Linda Lavin is wonderful in this cameo as the realtor.)
Within days of signing the purchase papers and moving in, the bottom drops out of their world because George’s boss is hauled off by the feds, the business closed, and George’s job lost. Meanwhile, Linda is failing to sell her ultra-depressing documentary — “An Inconvenient Truth meets March of the Penguin” — to HBO. When they return to sell the micro-loft, they learn the bottom has fallen out of the housing market.
George and Linda move out of their overpriced micro-loft as quickly as they moved in and hit the road to George’s brother’s home in Atlanta; the road trip is a cute sequence. On the way, they spend a night in the Elysium Bed and Breakfast run by a band of twig-tea-drinking, pot-smoking, free-love, vegan hippies. George and Linda first meet Wayne (daring portrayed by Joe Lo Truglio), the resident nudist, who roams the “intentional community” naked — all the time, inadvertently sticking his “business” in people’s faces. Aside from the the prolonged shots of Wayne in his full-frontal glory, which will be repeated ad nauseam in the movie, the comedy has been subtle and sweet and actually funny up to this point.
Unfortunately, George’s successful, but utterly obnoxious brother Rick, who is played by co-screenwriter/producer Ken Marino, is a completely foul-mouthed jerk who has anger issues and does see the pain he causes those he “loves.” His wife, Marissa (Michaela Watkins) spends her days roaming their suburban McMansion in an alcohol-induced, dissociative state to escape her husband’s cruelty, profanity, and infidelity. Of the hard to watch characters which Wain and Marino have created for this movie, this one is so lacking in nuance and is so over-the-top ugly that his presence on screen makes the movie hard to watch. In fact, three seconds of this character would have been enough for the entire movie because viewers aren’t so stupid as to not understand that the character is a horrible human being without being subjected to so much of his dialogue. Suddenly, the comedy is less funny, and Wain condescension towards his audience becomes blatant.
Feeling the need to continue to support Linda and unable to work for or live with Rick, George sees their return to Elysium as his only option because the hippies have offered them sanctuary. The couple privately agrees to a two week trial. Now no longer paying guests, George and Linda need to adjust to the rules of the “no-rules” community, which include no doors, even in the bathroom, and to a quirky band of housemates with lots of their own issues.
Against a backdrop of amusing, or perhaps only interesting, gags involving the culture clash between the hippies and the yuppies, Linda and George try to embrace a new lifestyle which promises happiness because everyone’s days are numbered. The eccentrics populating Elysium including Carvin (Alan Alda), the commune’s venerable founder, to whom time and drugs have not been kind, Seth (Justin Theroux) who seems to be forever competing in a Jesus look-alike contest, spouts philosophical mumbo-jumbo and Eva (Malin Akerman) who is Seth “partner” but is hot to invoke her free-love rights with George. All that free-love is optional, but it isn’t long before Linda and George’s marriage and love are in trouble.
At this point, Wain and Marino suddenly remember that the movie should have a little more plot and throw in an evil casino corporation, which is trying to get Carvin to produce a deed or vacate Elysium’s premises. Although the casting and acting is most superb, even brave, Wain and Marino’s movie has many problems. First, these filmmakers think that an adult audience is stupid enough to enjoy the juvenile, occasionally scatological, humor of repeating slang terms for body parts usually not seen, except in this movie. Second, what could have been funny isn’t played for laughs because the actors have been directed to understate the humor to the point that the gags are flat. Third, Wain and Marino believe that an adult audience will find incessant, pointless nudity amusing especially when all hints of sexual active seem to have been scripted under the strict conservatism of Hollywood’s 1930 Production Code.
Finally, Wain and Marino have made an R rated movie filled with comedy that could only entertain naughty children who have snuck into the theater . Wanderlust is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, language, and drug use.
The reasons deserve some explanation: There are several scenes of full frontal male and female nudity, many butt shots throughout the movie, and much talk of sex. Even though no sex is shown, sex is often associated with “talking dirty” about it. If one isn’t sick of the movie by the credits, the out takes are amusing, or perhaps only interesting.
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