Wanderlust (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Wanderlust (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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Sometimes-- oftentimes-- I laugh at penises. I can't help myself; I think dicks are kind of funny. Joe Lo Truglio's penis here rates somewhere between mildly amusing and delightful. It's big, floppy, and looks like it's wearing a rather modest afro.

It's not a real penis (thanks for ruining the fantasy once again, IMDB Trivia page!), and that odd fact seems to outline some of the issues of the film they're attached to.

Wanderlust is another film from the alumini of the comedy troupe The State. It was a big troupe, with various members masterminding things ranging from Wet Hot American Summer and "Reno 911" to "Stella" and The Ten. Director/performer David Wain has had a hand in all of them, and has proven himself, while not specifically adept at comedy, to be a bon vivant of uncomfortable and strange humor.

There's no setup he won't push to a level beyond the audience's sense of self if there's a chance for another laugh. His spiritual successors, which seem to run the gamut of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup, all subscribe to the same boundary-pushing bent-- how far can you let a joke linger? When does it stop being funny-- and then when does it start being funny again?

"Hello, Jennifer Aniston, may I shake your ta-tas good day?"

He pitches us this brand of comedy through the story of two New Yorkers who've seen their version of the American dream shattered. George (Paul Rudd) loses his crappy office job that he hated,  Linda (Jennifer Aniston, The Bounty Hunter) gets her documentary rejected by HBO, and their dream micro-loft must now go into hock. Their only refuge is George's brother Rick (Ken Marino), a totalitarian egomaniac who enjoys inflicting his bloated version of said dream onto his visiting sibling and his own wife (Michaela Watkins), who lives in what can be politely declared a drunken stupor.

On their way to stay with Rick, though, the couple attempted to stay the night at a bed and breakfast before accidentally finding themselves in a dark wooded area with the aforementioned Truglio and son chasing them down. Once the ruckus has cleared, they found themselves in the commune known as Elysium, with hosts ranging from the ancient man still on a slight acid trip (Alan Alda), loopy earth mother (Kerri Kenney-Silver), confident sexy nature freak (Justin Theroux) to a random hot chick who functions to keep the plot moving (Malin Ackerman).

George and Linda are tempted by the commune because they seeks some affirmation of self after so many years of toiling for what they assumed one another to be. Their marriage quickly unravels, as Linda's innate flightiness is counterbalanced by George's inability to let himself go. Linda can embrace the kinship, but George is afraid; it's the same as their New York life, only with this transition come new social mores that neither seem well equipped to adjust to.

"I'm here in this movie. Hangin' out. Shakin' things."

Wain sets these characters up to run into as much resistance as possible (though the other characters resist admitting to creating the resistance). It's a jokey situation that's replete with easy laughs; in a world where there have been so many movies making fun of hippies over the last six decades, it's almost shocking that someone saddled up to the well once more, let alone managed to ring some inklings of mirth from it.

It helps with a cast of comedy veterans plucked from all over, though one of the film's most common issues comes from its obviously loose improvisational stylings. Watch the trailer for this film and you'll see that half of the scenes never made it to the final cut. I didn't know this going in, but I felt it: when you run into improv humor, you get the impression that actors are playing the jokes at each other rather than between each other. It's easy to read it in the timing and motions-- it feels awkward.

That's why Rudd is such an asset in the film, as plays expertly against this type of comedy. He reacts with good grace and remarkable humor through and throughout. Aniston has less skill, but she manages to be deft enough to keep her head above water. They make the humor glow, even if the film's performers and slight editing make it feel less than the sum of its parts.

This scene, a montage of driving across the country between arguments and other annoyances, is the best scene in the film. It's a shame it happens so early on.

And that's a problem for something that's so self consciously edgy. For a movie that attempts to modulate along the lines of humor, it may get uncomfortable, but, unless you're incredibly naive, it never goes that extra mile to try and make a point; worse, it loses steam steadily as it goes along. We get it: hippies are wacky, self righteous assholes are assholes, both ends of the spectrum of greed are filled to the brim with loons.

Wanderlust was in need of more big fat dicks waving in the audience's face. Taking potshots at hippies and McMansion owners is cheesy, good fun, but Wain's performers needed another layer, something deeper and more raw than just another "find a way to be happy with yourself" parable.

Wain: You're cool, but I expect more from you and any possible penises that may be involved. Get on it.

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Posted by Danny

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. eh…..interesting review, but i don’t even think i could bring myself to rent this.

  2. Good review Danny, as usual. Wanderlust was pretty uneven but there were actually many moments where I couldn’t stop but laugh at mainly because of this great cast. Let me also not forget to mention the one scene where it’s just Paul Rudd improving for about 3 minutes all by himself. That was definitely worth the price of admission.

    • I don’t completely agree with you on that one, Dan. Rudd’s got some good reaction shots, but his own improvisations undermined what little sympathy there was for that character. It pushed the film even closer to out and out cartoon.

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