Of the thousands of films I’ve seen in my lifetime, ‘Wanderlust’ has set some sort of record with me. I had mixed feelings walking out of the theatre, and initially posted a tweet-sized review which stated “’Wanderlust’ is 51% original comedy, and 49% stale comedy. On balance, I’m giving the film a marginal recommendation.” After exchanging a few tweets with a fellow follower (who also had mixed feelings about the picture), I decided I was being far too generous. My follow-up tweet to my review involved flipping the ratio to 51% stale / 49% original, thus revoking my initial recommendation. This has never happened before.
The film opens with George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) bickering about whether or not they should buy a micro-loft in Manhattan. They go through their list of pros and cons, whilst their real estate agent sits and watches impatiently, waiting for them to make a decision. But, George’s boss gets arrested by the FBI, and Linda has her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer turned down by HBO. This leaves them both unemployed, and they hit the road for Atlanta to stay with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), a highly successful business owner. Along the way, they stay at a bed and breakfast hotel that turns out to be a hippie commune. After spending a night there, they head to Rick’s only to realize they can’t stand it and thus return to the commune. Trying to adapt to this unusual 60s era hippie lifestyle where free love reigns, George and Linda find their marriage challenged. There’s also an evil land developer who wants to turn the commune into a casino.
As you may have noticed from my description above, ‘Wanderlust’ doesn’t have much of a plot. A film like this relies almost entirely on its cast to pull it off. Some of the actors are given the chance to shine. We meet the occupants of the commune, many with a handful of eccentricities. There is a nudist who is working on what he thinks will become a bestselling novel. He also stomps grapes, but thankfully covers his midsection with a thin cloth to avoid shedding pubes into them. We are also so introduced to a pregnant woman, well into her trimester, who then pops out her baby with an effortless squat. And there’s another lady who illustrates the commune’s philosophies of free love – fighting off your sexual urges with multiple partners supposedly invites disease and death, and who is a fan of either? The members of the commune do not clap their hands – they demonstrate appreciation by rubbing their fingers together. And there are no doors since privacy is not in their vocabulary.
I have to admit, I enjoyed meeting a few of the above-mentioned characters in the film and was laughing at parts of ‘Wanderlust’. Both Paul, and Justin Theroux are very good in their respective roles and they are almost good enough to make the film work. Justin Theroux’s character has been a member of the commune for so long, he mocks people and their obsessive reliance on modern technologies such as VCRs, fax machines, and floppy disks. I also have to give the movie points for being an R-rated comedy featuring lots of bad language, nudity, and drug use. Too many films these days play it safe by toning down the crude material in order to receive a PG-13 rating. The releasing studios believe such a rating will draw in a larger audience, thus yielding higher box office numbers.
‘Wanderlust’ as a cinematic experience is much like hanging with these drug-fuelled characters – the film lacks structure and cohesion. It is a series of set pieces, and while I’ve mentioned some of the comedic bits that work, there are also a number of jokes that get hammered into the ground well before the point of delivering laughs. Aniston’s character consumes a hallucinogenic substance and takes the lyrics of R.Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ literally. The presentation of her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer is also flat and unfunny. But the most cringe worthy scene that I found physically painful to watch involves Paul Rudd’s character talking to himself in a bathroom mirror. He rehearses what he is about to say to a woman who has offered herself to him, and lines such as “I’m going to get up in yo vag” are said repeatedly to the point of discomfort. This extended scene goes on for at least three minutes, and then when Rudd meets the lady for what could be the big moment, we hear it all over again, and the joke which was unfunny to begin with has now been milked for all it’s worth.
‘Wanderlust’ isn’t bad enough to make you wish all those involved in this project would depart from society and live on their own commune. It is a mixed bag, but unfortunately I don’t think this is a bag worth sorting through. I acknowledge that the cast does elevate what is otherwise paper thin material, but I’m fairly confident that most of us would rather see them in a better picture. This is director David Wain’s second near miss in a row – his last project being ‘Role Models’, also starring Paul Rudd. I think the two of them will get it right the third time around.
– Jerry Nadarajah