Everything moviegoers could possibly expect from one a one-joke premise (and less).
Paul Rudd and David Wain (Role Models, The Ten, Wet Hot American Summer) can rejoice. They’re back for their fourth comedic collaboration. Jennifer Aniston’s fans (however many are left after a fruitless decade spent in the romantic comedy wilderness), can rejoice too, of course. Rudd, Wain, co-writer (and actor) Ken Marino, and Aniston have joined their respective talents for Wanderlust, a semi-satirical, broad comedy with modest aims and just as modest results. Despite being filmed almost two years (or maybe because little has changed since then), moviegoers will be surprised to find Wanderlust addresses, if only superficially, contemporary economic fears and anxieties.
Rudd plays George, a semi-successful financial analyst and one-half of a wannabe Manhattan power-duo. George and his wife, Linda (Jennifer Aniston), a first-time documentary filmmaker, pour their life savings into an over-priced, under-sized Manhattan studio apartment, dubbed a “micro-loft” by the realtor (Linda Lavin). When George’s firm goes belly up due to a financial investigation by the feds, he’s left jobless and presumably, unemployable for the near-term. Almost simultaneously, HBO rejects Linda’s documentary about the dark side of Antarctica, leaving George and Linda with one and only one choice (apparently): a humiliating move to Atlanta where George faces the unenviable prospect of living with and working for his vulgar, crude, obnoxious brother, Rick (co-writer Ken Marino).
The long exodus south leads them inevitably and inexorably to their true destination, Elysium, an “intentional community” (a.k.a., a hippie commune) led by the Seth (Justin Theroux), a long-haired, bearded messiah-like figure who tantalizingly offers George and Linda a respite from the rigors of mass consumption, consumerism, wealth accumulation, and social status-seeking. George takes to Elysium’s pot-induced pleasures with relative ease, but after a stress-filled experience with Rick and Rick’s over-medicated wife, Marissa (Michaela Watkins), ends with harsh words, George convinces Linda to return to Elysium temporarily, promising to respect whatever she wants at the end of a two-week period. George, however, doesn’t count on Linda’s acclimation to Elysium or his own alienation, especially after another Elysium resident, Eva (Malin Ackerman), nonchalantly offers to exchange bodily fluids with George, forcing him and later Linda, to confront their attitudes about love, marriage, and monogamy (not necessarily in that order).
Elysium’s founders settled on “free love” as one of, if not the, pivotal tenet for the Elysium community and its continuation over four decades. That, of course, sets up Wanderlust’s unsurprising central conflict: free love vs. heterosexual monogamy. Wanderlust’s status as a Hollywood-produced film predetermined which side wins this particular conflict, but it also dampens Wanderlust’s initial pleasures based on a loose, improvisational, vignette-feel as George and Linda encounter Elysium’s eccentric (if caricatured) residents and their counter-cultural way of life. Wain and Marino include a running subplot involving a missing deed to the Elysium property and an unscrupulous casino developer. Elysium’s sole remaining founder, Carvin (Alan Alda), can’t seem to remember where he stored it for safekeeping. If nothing else, the missing deed subplot pads out Wanderlust’s running time.
Unfortunately, Wanderlust runs out of narrative steam well before the obligatory end credits blooper reel rolls. With the exception mirror scene that juxtaposes Rudd’s nice-guy persona and a stream of sex-based profanities and vulgarities (each one as funny if not funnier than the last), Wanderlust suffers from the law of diminishing comedic returns, a problem typical of Wain and Marino’s earlier efforts and Hollywood comedies in general. Even then, the first joke- and gag-filled 40 or 45 minutes are almost worth the price of admission alone, especially for fans of Wain and Rudd’s previous collaborations.
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