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Right away David Wain’s “Wanderlust” got me curious. Not only is “Wet Hot American Summer” one of the most perfect comedy films in recent memory, but I’m a fan of almost everything he’s ever been a part of. “The State” is absolutely brilliant, “Stella” very nearly reaches that level, and “Role Models” shows that he can direct actual complex characters. Early trailers for “Wanderlust” set things up as a quirky relationship drama/road trip movie. Later installments played up the new age, love-in commune angle of the story, and it looked like they were going to spend 98 minutes making fun of hippies. Don’t get me wrong, I can watch people bag on hippies all day long, no problem, but I was worried that “Wanderlust” might be a one trick pony. I should learn to have a little faith.
After their fast-paced Manhattan life turns to complete shit, George and Linda Gergenblatt (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Anniston) pack all their worldly possessions into a Honda hatchback and head to Atlanta. George’s d-bag brother Rick (co-writer Ken Marino) runs a port-a-john company and has a menial data entry job waiting for his baby bro. On the way South George and Linda spend a magical night with a bunch of dirt-worshipping tree-huggers at an intentional community cum bed and breakfast called Elysium. When Rick’s uber-materialistic McMansion lifestyle overwhelms the troubled couple, they retreat into the welcoming, patchouli-scented, free-love-practicing bosom of Elysium. This is the kind of place where they don’t believe in doors and pregnant women give birth on the front porch.
“Wanderlust” definitely rides the cast, especially Rudd. His flustered, indecisive George coasts by on his charm. I’ll watch Rudd do just about anything, and he walks the line between freaked out normal, foul-mouthed horndog, and silly physical comedian. “Wanderlust” is worth watching for his performance alone. Aniston is fine as Linda, who dives into the communal lifestyle with an abandon that piles strain on top of their already tenuous relationship. Marino may be the best smarmy asshole working in comedy today. And Elysium’s residents—including Justin Theroux as the hunky out of date spiritual leader, Malin Akerman as the sexually liberated ingénue, Alan Alda as the burn out founder, and Kerri Kenney as the spaciest space cadet you’ve ever seen—absolutely nail the peacenik vibe. They practice therapeutic yelling, have improvised acoustic guitar jams, take hallucinogens in a “truth circle”, and play the didgeridoo into the wee hours of the morning. Where else in the world would you meet Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio), a nudist wine maker and aspiring novelist?
While “Wanderlust” is consistently funny throughout—at times it is uproariously hilarious (George psyching himself up in a mirror might make you pee your pants)—there are problems. The plot is near nonexistent, and what is there is mostly incidental, which isn’t an issue until the last third of the film when Wain and Marino try to take things in a serious direction. I can’t tell you how many comedies are ruined each year when filmmakers try to tack on meaning at the last minute. It is a tragic affliction and there should be a telethon to stop it. Judd Apatow, who produced “Wanderlust”, likes to beat this into the ground. There are some sinister developers who want to build a casino on Elysium’s land, and the cracks start to show through the everything-is-groovy façade. One of the things that makes “Wet Hot American Summer” so brilliant is that it never gives into the temptation to stray from what works, and chooses comedy over drama.
“Wanderlust” is best when the actors involved are unfettered by concerns of furthering the story and play fast and loose, when they can just go for it with an infectious, improvisational glee. When everyone is let off the leash and free to be ridiculous, which is the vast majority of the time, you’ll laugh your ass off. “Wanderlust” could definitely be better, and falls well short of greatness, but it is really damn funny. If you’re a fan of any of the parties involved, check this out; it’s well worth your time. “Wanderlust” is funnier than anything else you’ve seen so far this year, and probably anything you will see this year. This is one of those movies where you can’t wait for the DVD because you just know that there are hours and hours of incredible outtakes littering the editing room.
David Wain (director/writer)/Ken Marino (writer)
CAST: Paul Rudd…George
Joe Lo Truglio…Wayne