Movie Reviews
9:43 am
Fri February 24, 2012

'Wanderlust': A Zany Blast From The Communal Past

Originally published on Fri February 24, 2012 12:15 pm

In sophisticated comedy, what's funny is the tension between proper manners and the nasty or sexy subtext. Whereas in low comedy, there are no manners, and the nasty or sexy subtext is right there on the surface.

And then there's Wanderlust, in which the subtext is blasted through megaphones — the characters say so insanely much you want to scream. The satire is as broad as a battleship and equally bombarding. But it takes guts to do a comedy this big without gross-out slapstick, and the writers and the actors are all in.

Amid the zanies, Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston have more or less the straight roles, but they're so innocent they're borderline crazy. They play George and Linda — he's in finance, she's an aspiring documentary filmmaker — who sink their money into an itty-bitty Manhattan apartment and go bust.

As they're en route to Atlanta to move in with George's crassly materialistic older brother and his suffering wife, their GPS sends them to the Elysium Bed and Breakfast — a hippie-dippy farming collective out of a time capsule. We're talking long-haired women in tie-dyed skirts, atop white horses beside tepees. They smoke a lot of dope and rap — not hip-hop rapping but, "Let's form a truth circle and, you know, rap" rapping.

You say it sounds like a bunch of stereotypes — and 40-year-old stereotypes? The defense concedes the point. It's not fresh terrain. But this tribe of hippies is also a tribe of marvelously inventive comic actors doing a fair amount of inspired improvisation and grooving on the mindset. Alan Alda plays the commune's last remaining founder, who rolls around in a wheelchair fulminating against capitalism and, in one drawn-out scene with Rudd and Aniston, explaining Elysium's policy in favor of free love.

Holding jokes a beat too long — two beats, three — that's a big technique of director David Wain, who co-wrote Wanderlust with Ken Marino, and it works because you get to watch Rudd writhe. Rudd is not the subtlest straight man in movies, but he might be the best. His deadpan is never dead — the body is twitching too madly, working to project easygoingness while his insides clench. And if Aniston remains a sitcom actress who overworks her mushy smile, that mushiness works beautifully for the impressionable, overeager Linda.

George and Linda flee back to Elysium after a nightmarish stay with George's brother, whereupon they learn how the place really works. Malin Ackerman plays the willowy blond Eva, who unceremoniously offers herself to George, who's still smarting after someone drives his car into the lake. More eager than Eva is Seth, the hairy hippie he-man played by Justin Theroux, who is mentally undressing Linda from the moment he lays eyes on her.

Theroux was barnstorming as a psychotic wizard in last year's maligned Your Highness, and he's just as inventive as Seth, homing in on the character's self-righteous cool and making beautiful music with the other actors, among them Kerri Kenney-Silver as a trippy nonstop talker and rubber-faced Kathryn Hahn as a woman whose feelers are way oversensitive to bad vibes.

Wanderlust has a bum last 10 minutes, a lame coda and inadvisable outtakes over the closing credits. The misses are, frankly, big — but not nearly so big that they bust your groove. The movie renews your faith in communal comedy.

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Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

In the new comedy "Wanderlust," an unemployed Manhattan couple - played by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston - stumble onto a hippie farming commune where they meet characters straight out of the '60s, played by Justin Theroux and Alan Alda. One of the movie's co-producers is Judd Apatow. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: In sophisticated comedy, what's funny is the tension between proper manners and the nasty or sexy subtext. Whereas in low comedy, there are no manners, and the nasty or sexy subtext is right there on the surface. And then there's "Wanderlust," in which the subtext is blasted through megaphones - the characters say so insanely much you want to scream.

The satire is as broad as a battleship and equally bombarding. But it takes guts to do a comedy this big without gross-out slapstick, and the writers and the actors are all in. Amid the zanies, Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston have more or less the straight roles, but they're so innocent they're borderline crazy.

They play George and Linda - he's in finance and she's an aspiring documentary filmmaker - who sink their money into an itty-bitty Manhattan apartment and go bust. As they're en route to Atlanta to move in with George's crassly materialistic older brother and his suffering wife, their GPS sends them to the Elysium Bed and Breakfast - a hippie-dippy farming collective out of a time capsule.

It's not fresh terrain, but this tribe of hippies is also a tribe of marvelously inventive comic actors doing a fair amount of inspired improvisation and grooving on the mindset. Alan Alda plays the commune's last remaining founder, who rolls around in a wheelchair, fulminating against capitalism. He's there when George and Linda prepare to take their leave after a consciousness-altering night's stay.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WANDERLUST")

PAUL RUDD: (As George) Incredible night.

JENNIFER ANISTON: (As Linda) Really.

RUDD: (As George) Do you take credit cards?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, no. We all decided that you paid us last night with your friendship and honesty and your stories.

ANISTON: (As Linda) That's so...

RUDD: (As George) I mean...

ANISTON: (As Linda) ...so kind. Thank you.

RUDD: (As George) ...do we get change back?

ANISTON: (As Linda) And you know what? If we didn't need the money so badly, we would insist.

RUDD: (As George) Mm-hmm.

ALAN ALDA: (As Carvin) Just remember money buys nothing.

ANISTON: (As Linda) Hmm.

RUDD: (As George) Well, nothing important, right?

ALDA: (As Carvin) No, no. Money literally buys nothing.

RUDD: (As George) I think you mean metaphorically.

ALDA: (As Carvin) No, literally. Nothing.

RUDD: (As George) Well, literally money buys most things.

ALDA: (As Carvin) No, nothing. Like, are you saying that--

ANISTON: (As Linda) Well, you know...

RUDD: (As George) Well, I'm saying literally you would--

ALDA: (As Carvin) Yeah, but I'm saying literally money buys nothing. I don't know what you...

ANISTON: (As Linda) It buys nothing.

RUDD: (As George) You're right. Money – money pays for nothing.

ANISTON: (As Linda) That's right.

RUDD: (As George) But not literally.

ANISTON: (As Linda) (whispers) Honey.

EDELSTEIN: Holding jokes a beat too long - two beats, three - that's a big technique of director David Wain, who co-wrote "Wanderlust" with Ken Marino, and it works because you get to watch Paul Rudd writhe. Rudd is not the subtlest straight man in movies, but he might be the best.

His deadpan is never dead - the body is twitching too madly, working to project easygoingness while his insides clench. And if Jennifer Aniston remains a sitcom actress who overworks her mushy smile, that mushiness works beautifully for the impressionable, overeager Linda.

George and Linda flee back to Elysium after a nightmarish stay with George's brother, whereupon they learn how the place really works. Malin Ackerman plays the willowy blond Eva, who unceremoniously offers herself to George. More eager than Eva, is Seth, the hairy, hippie, he-man played by Justin Theroux, who is mentally undressing Linda from the moment he lays eyes on her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WANDERLUST")

JUSTIN THEROUX: (As Seth) So George, I hear Eva asked to intercourse with you.

ANISTON: (As Linda) What?

RUDD: (As George) Yeah. Thanks, Seth. Uh, that was, uh, what I was going to tell you.

ANISTON: (As Linda) Mm-hmm.

RUDD: (As George) Apparently, at Elysium they practice free love. And, uh, Eva suggested that we try it.

ANISTON: (As Linda) What did you tell her?

RUDD: (As George) Uh, no. I said – I said no. I mean, we didn't finish the conversation, but I was about – and I will and did say no.

THEROUX: (As Seth) It's just biology. Homo sapiens weren't meant to be monogamous creatures.

ANISTON: (As Linda) I don't know. It just – that just all sounds to me like an excuse for everybody just to get into bed together.

THEROUX: (As Seth) If you want to pick a fight with your body's sexual chi, it's just going to drive it inwards. And that invites disease and death.

RUDD: (As George) Man, I'm not a fan of death.

LAUREN AMBROSE: (As Almond) People treat sex like it's this huge deal with crazy life consequences.

EDELSTEIN: That last voice was red-haired ingénue Lauren Ambrose as a woman nine months pregnant. The joke is, yes, that free love has consequences and it's not one that gets old.

Justin Theroux was barnstorming as a psychotic wizard in last year's maligned "Your Highness," and he's just as inventive as Seth, homing in on the character's self-righteous cool and making beautiful music with the other actors, among them Kerri Kenney-Silver as a trippy nonstop talker and rubber-faced Kathryn Hahn as a woman whose feelers are way oversensitive to bad vibes.

"Wanderlust" has a bum last 10 minutes, a lame coda and inadvisable outtakes over the closing credits. The misses are, frankly, big - but not nearly so big that they bust your groove. The movie renews your faith in communal comedy.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and you can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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