Thursday, February 23, 2012


Wandering Ridiculously,
Bursting With Laughter

Paul Rudd as George and Jennifer Aniston as Linda in David Wain's absurdist comedy "Wanderlust". 
Universal Pictures


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Thursday, February 23
, 2012

Jennifer Aniston's onscreen losing streak with film turkeys is more or less over with David Wain's hilarious (to a point) "Wanderlust", which has a good, laugh-out-loud-funny and snappy first hour before crashing and burning in ridiculous and spectacularly disastrous style, almost undoing the entire hour before.

George (Paul Rudd) and failed documentary filmmaker Linda (Ms. Aniston) are a New York City married couple who live in a box of an apartment in Manhattan.  For once, a Hollywood film shows us what it is really like to live in Manhattan, and not the palaces representing the Big Apple film apartments we typically see ("Friends With Benefits", "Sex And The City 2".)  When George loses his job he and Linda are forced to live elsewhere, temporarily in Atlanta with George's offensive brother Rick (Ken Marino) and his transparent wife (Michaela Watkins) before stumbling into Elysium, a hippie commune of transients, nudists, outcasts and Sixties revelers.  There's a forgettable subplot about a casino that is to be built by some developers on the Elysium grounds.

As written by Mr. Wain and Mr. Marino, "Wanderlust" is thin on the page, designed solely as an experience of absurdity, foolishness and reflexive offensiveness rather than a credible movie.  Still, "Wanderlust" has very funny moments, especially early on, with good exchanges and juvenile, incorrect barbs which lead to laughs.  Unlike last year's abominable and mean-spirited "The Change-Up", "Wanderlust" knows that it is silly, stupid and a parody of insanity, stereotypes and greed.

Mr. Wain, who has dredged in the mire with such films as "Role Models" and other forgettable ventures, purposely avoids any notion of being taken seriously.  The problem is that after "Wanderlust" revels in its nonsense successfully and succinctly for an hour it diverts to bizarre and emphatically tasteless material thereafter, losing its rhythm and finally its way.  The Judd Apatow-produced film forgets that it knows it is stupid and turns pathetic, suddenly taking radical tone shifts.  "Wanderlust" transforms into a creepy, harder-edged, knuckled-headed repetitive stinker, banging its head on the same tree whose bark it had already stripped off 20 minutes before.

Until this simple-minded affair of sketches capsizes, Mr. Rudd and Ms. Aniston (who have collaborated before on screen in several films) make the most of things, with Mr. Rudd unflappable and unhinged, often at the same time.  As Linda, the usually frisky and cartoonish Ms. Aniston doesn't have to play to stereotypes; she's surrounded by them in Elysium, so the actress can stay within herself and react to both the crazies and the seemingly rational.  The one showcase scene she has comes early on during a meeting with HBO executives as she pitches her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer.  Nice.  The film's abrupt shift to the hallucinogenic and outlandish betrays Ms. Aniston, and at least on this occasion it's hardly her fault.  She has a small moment with Alan Alda, playing Elysium's co-founder that bears the only discernable sweetness the film allows itself.

Mr. Rudd ("Our Idiot Brother", "I Love You, Man", "Role Models", "The Shape Of Things") is undeniably a great talent, good in both bad and good films.  He helps elevate other actors, and Ms. Aniston, tolerable here, is all the better for it.  (See the outtakes of Mr. Rudd on the "Bridesmaids" Blu-Ray to appreciate some of the wackiness he revels in here.)  I'll concede: "Wanderlust" did make me laugh out loud a lot during the first hour.  It won't be everybody's cup of tea, what with its excessive sight gags involving penises, and I tired of those quickly.  I soured on the film greatly after the hour-mark as it ventured into the grotesque and incoherent.  Mr. Wain borrows from "25th Hour", "Naked Lunch" and "Sideways" among other movies to hammer home points that are belabored if not occasionally odd. 

"Wanderlust" has good supporting work from the unrecognizable Justin Theroux as a pseudo-guru at Elysium, and a small role for Malin Akerman, tolerable as a free-spirited sex siren.  I'm not sure that for all his efforts however the director knew where to go with "Wanderlust" after the first hour.  Had Mr. Wain stayed on course with the spirit of much of the first hour "Wanderlust" may not have ended up so disastrously.  Still, any film that makes you forget that you lost very expensive eyewear just an hour before it started can't be all bad.

With: Joe Lo Truglio, Lauren Ambrose, Jordan Peele, Kathryn Hahn, Jessica St. Clair, Linda Lavin, Kerri Kenney, Todd Barry.

"Wanderlust" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sexual content, graphic nudity, language, and drug use.  There's a couple of strange, gross-out images that will repel some viewers.  The film's running time is one hour and 38 minutes.

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