In 2001, the cult comedy to top all cult comedies, Wet Hot American Summer, was released to rather negative reviews (obviously). Garnering an A from Entertainment Weekly, but low markings from pretty much everywhere else, the film was discarded into oblivion after its release, only to resurface as a God of the cult world a few years later. Director and co-writer David Wain had since then made a couple of movies including The Ten and the critical and commercial success, Role Models, which definitely took a turn for the subdued in the “Wain humor” category.
What is the “Wain humor” you might ask? Well if you watch the television show “Children’s Hospital”, then you get an idea of what I’m talking about. In short, it’s silly, it’s absurd, but at the end of the day, it’s hilarious. In David Wain’s newest film, Wanderlust, he turns up the absurdity, gives a middle finger to everyone who doesn’t get the joke, and does his thing. After George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) find themselves jobless, with no money to pay the rent, they’re forced to move to Atlanta for a job with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino). Rick, who specializes in selling port-o-potties to construction sites, is, for all intents and purpose, a complete douchebag. His wife, Marissa (Michaela Watkins) is an alcoholic stay-at-home who just wants her life to end at some point in the near future.
On their way there, though, they stop at a bed and breakfast called Elysium which turns out to actually be a hippie commune. Founded by Carvin (Alan Alda) but led by spiritual confidant named Seth (Justin Theroux), George and Linda have the night of their life that includes some very strong marijuana, a lot of dancing, and a lot of laughing. After leaving the commune and arriving in Atlanta, George realizes how unhappy he is, and how unhappy he’s going to continue to be. After a hilariously over-the-top fight with his brother, George and Linda flee the suburban Atlanta household, and go right back to Elysium where they are accepted by everyone instantly.
Some of the more audacious personalities include Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio), a budding writer and winemaker that also happens to be a nudist, Eva (Malin Akerman), a big supporter and activist of free love, and Almond (Lauren Ambrose), a very pregnant, but very sweet girl who embraces the lifestyle of Elysium. These and more of the other residents help make George and Linda feel right at home, but when Linda starts practicing free love, taking drugs, and completely embracing the lifestyle of a hippie, George realizes that they have to get them out of Elysium and back home where they belong.
Wanderlust is the umpteenth collaboration from Paul Rudd, Ken Marino, and David Wain. It’s pretty hard to find one without the other, and for good reason. When the three of those comedic geniuses get together, the result is usually magic. Wanderlust is a constantly hilarious, if not steadily plotted, movie that has come at just the right time in the spring of 2012. Taking a break from all of the drama and action movies, as well as starting what seems to be a great year in comedy, Wanderlust is able to tell a good joke up to seven times with an equally funny reaction each time.
Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are both fantastic, and after Aniston’s risky performance in last year’s Horrible Bosses, she’s proven that she’s able to take on edgier roles that aren’t exactly part of her typecast persona. Paul Rudd is as fantastic as usual, giving an equally innocent and honest performance that targets all of his strong suits as an actor. On a little side note, I need to take some time to go on a Paul Rudd rant for just a moment. If you don’t know, Rudd is actually an extremely accomplished actor who deserves roles that really displays his fantastic range of ability. There is such a film, mind you, called Two Days. If you haven’t heard of it, which you probably haven’t (it doesn’t even have a professional review on Rotten Tomatoes), go watch it on Netflix. It’s definitely an acquired taste for anyone who watches any genre of film, but even if you aren’t interested in black comedy, watch just for Rudd’s performance. Oh, and when I say black comedy, I mean, pitch black.
Getting back on track, Wanderlust benefits from having a very talented cast of characters who are familiar with not only David Wain’s work, but his strange style of comedy, because to be perfectly honest, Wanderlust is possibly the strangest mainstream comedy you’re going to see all year. Giant talking house flies, some hallucinogenic drug trips, and a group of nudist wine makers running for their life in slow motion are just a couple of things you’ll bear witness to in the film.
But where Wanderlust succeeds in being hilarious, it fails in telling a compelling story. Rather than following any sort of plot, Wanderlust just kind of pushes forward and expects the audience to be okay with it. Granted, the film is never downright boring, but the predictable and familiar plot twists detract from the overall product. It almost seems like the plot came as an afterthought to the rest of the film when Marino and Wain spent time writing it.
David Wain, on the other hand, directs the film with a confidence and control that hasn’t really been present in his previous films. With slick edits, emotionally fueled camerawork, and guiding transitions, Wain, in some ways, makes up for the lack of plot with the wonderful style he’s adopted for the film. That blended with everything else that’s lovable about Wanderlust equates to an enjoyable comedy that is neither too crude or too timid, giving it appeal and charm. Produced by Judd Apatow, Wanderlust feels familiar, but at the same time, anything David Wain and Paul Rudd work on is going to be enjoyable, and Wanderlust really isn’t an exception.