The Fashionably Late Review: Wanderlust
Fairly ironically, one might be able to blame modern technology for the lack of buzz surrounding David Wain’s counterculture, anti-technology comedy Wanderlust. Whereas these days most of us glean our criticisms of new films or television programs from comments on Twitter, friends on Facebook or gratuitous coverage on a number of different websites, there seemed to be a noticeable quietness about the release of Wanderlust. It was rather surprising, really, given the insanely talented comic cast and the combination of direction from Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, a cult classic) with the writing of Wain and fellow ex-State alum Ken Marino. Wet Hot is a brutally underseen, brilliant piece of comedy, and Marino and Wain have previously hit big in the past with 2008’s Role Models and, to some indie extent, with the ensemble anthology The Ten. Tying in leads Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd with a crew of able comic backup players like Kathryn Hahn, Jordan Peele, Justin Theroux and Kerri Kenney Silver should have worked. We should have heard more about it, right? What was wrong with it? If we’re not hearing about it, it must not be any good, huh?
Turns out the lack of attention which damned Wanderlust was completely unwarranted. For starters, it rode into a stacked box office featuring a Denzel Washington movie, a Tyler Perry movie, and a movie starring the Rock. Secondly, it clearly had the standard studio advertising budget of an independent comedy, which is to say, not much. Finally, it featured a bunch of wonderful actors who are revered in certain circles but not exactly run-out-to-the-multiplex material for the general population. As a result, Wanderlust got somewhat swept under the rug, without much fanfare. Which is a damn shame, because Wanderlust is actually pretty good and a great amount of fun.
Rudd and Aniston play yuppie New Yorkers George and Linda, strapped with downsizing and forced to sell their tiny NYC studio apartment. With no place else to go, they hit the open road south when car trouble lands them in a free-love, self-sufficient bohemian community farm called Elysium. Initially, Elysium’s unbridled spirit is invigorating to the stressed, Blackberry-reliant couple — but they soon learn that even in paradise, societal rules and expectations can be a huge drag.
As a satire sending up both techno-tethered hipsters and flaky, out of touch flower children, Wanderlust really works. Rudd and Aniston sell it well as the straight men, which allows characters like Theroux’s alpha-male nature boy, ex-Stater Jo Lo Truglio’s nudist writer and Marino’s dickish brother-in-law some great lines and bits. And that’s essentially where Wanderlust really sings — though the pieces may not hold together as any sort of groundbreaking whole, the individual scenes, writing and ensemble work is worth the price of admission. It’s fun to watch actors who seem to be having fun, and the spirit of Wanderlust is really infectious. It also helps that the comedy’s being delivered by absolute pros; there’s an unarguable amount of natural talent on display here.
Though the third act slows a bit, it never slows so much to detract from the good vibes, and some surprisingly goofy moments dot the otherwise reality-rooted plotline. It’s always helpful to have a comic mind direct a comic film, and Wain clearly knows how to milk his cast for every laugh. Wanderlust may not be perfect, but I can almost guarantee it’s better than you’ve been sitting around thinking it was. With realistic expectations (read: don’t expect Wet Hot American Summer), Wanderlust comes off as a strong comedy, even if it came and went so quietly — and it’s worth searching out for a light watch and a decently light, silly and inoffensive good time.