Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Dir. David Wain
3 out of 5
Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are the world's most charming yuppies in Wanderlust, a tale of wannabe one-percenters who are forced to move from New York to Georgia when Rudd loses his job after a federal raid on his banking firm. Looking for a place to spend the night on their long road trip, the couple stumble upon a bed and breakfast that happens to be part of a hippie commune called Elysium. When Rudd finds living with his alpha-douche brother (Ken Marino) unbearable, he convinces Aniston to set aside her city-slicker misgivings and give the freewheeling, sage-scented lifestyle of Elysium a try. Rudd's enthusiasm quickly wanes when he discovers that turning on, tuning in, and dropping out means adopting a set of ideals he isn't completely thrilled about (the commune has some interesting views on bathroom privacy). However, he's most concerned about Elysium's de-facto leader (Justin Theroux), a pretentious Svengali with a thinly veiled agenda that revolves around seducing and bedding Aniston.
It's refreshing to see Rudd and Aniston tackle material that's worthy of their comedic talents for once, a welcome change from the many times we've seen them try to resuscitate a moribund premise with nothing but their considerable charm. Rudd is particularly energized by the reunion with his Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain. He plays his character as an interesting hybrid of straight man and nervous wreck - a tricky assignment as the film bets big on his natural likeability, even as he's constantly ridiculing America's Sweetheart for drinking the Elysium kool-aid. But his exasperation feels justified whenever Theroux is involved; Rudd can't even impress his new hippie friends with a Spin Doctors jam without the shirtless guitar hero butting in with interminable flamenco solos.
Strong lead performances aside, it's hard to shake the feeling that Wanderlust isn't as funny as it should be. The warmed-over plot crams in as many tired hippie clichés (nudists, free love, hallucinogens) as possible. Theroux is also more cartoon than character, a stereotypically shortsighted demagogue of the radical left who morphs from mild annoyance to full-on villain with no real explanation. Wain at least balances his class politics with Marino's equally heinous example of a brotastic Porta-Potty kingpin lording over his McMansion. That leaves Rudd and Aniston stranded in a squishy middle ground that isn't terribly different from the bland, unsatisfying normality in which they began the film. Wanderlust is at its best when it deviates from the plot-specific jokes and just lets the cast go for simple belly laughs (Rudd auditioning dirty talk in a bathroom mirror reaches the heights of his epic "slappin' da bass" tangent in I Love You, Man), providing an appropriately shaggy counterweight to the rest of the movie's disappointingly predictable hijinks.