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Entries in Wanderlust [2012] (1)

Wednesday
Aug292012

Wanderlust (2012)

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I don't blame you for skipping Wanderlust in the theatre. The trailers made it look like a generic fish-out-of-water comedy, with Jennifer Aniston clawing her way to comeback number 12,052. The movie also came and went so quickly that by the time my wife and I arranged a date night to see it, we couldn't. That's what an eighth-place opening weekend gets you, I guess.

We finally saw it on-demand last weekend, and I'm kicking myself for not having made the effort to support this film earlier. You see, this isn't just a Paul Rudd/Jennifer Aniston rom-com: this is a Paul Rudd/Jennifer Aniston rom-com directed by David Wain--who co-wrote it with Ken Marino.

If those names mean nothing to you, please stop reading this review and seek out The State and Stella--two eponymous, off-the-wall sketch series featuring the some of the most talented and under-appreciated creators in show-business. Wanderlust reunites most of the gang, along with Saturday Night Live alum Michaela Watkins, comedy duo Key and Peele (Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, formerly of Mad TV), and two stars of the off-beat drama Six Feet Under. Wain fills even the lesser roles with surprise comedic talents, resulting in a movie that takes hundreds of absurd detours on a road typically paved in formula.

Rudd and Aniston star as George and Linda, a New York couple who sign the lease on a ridiculously expensive West Village apartment the week before George loses his job and HBO declines to purchase Linda's Arctic-penguins-with-testicular-cancer documentary. Broke and homeless, they drive to Georgia, where George's asshole brother, Rick (Marino), has offered George a data-entry job at his Port-O-John business, as well as a room in his huge house.

They stop at a bed-and-breakfast along the way, which doubles as an "intentional community" for lost souls and free spirits. During their night of pot-smoking, dancing, and laughter, they meet a novel-writing nudist (Joe Lo Truglio); an ex-porn star with anger issues (Kathryn Hahn); a burly, sex-crazed Luddite (Justin Theroux); and the b&b's lifelong-hippie owner, Carvin (Alan Alda), among others. The next day, George and Linda bid everyone a fond farewell and continue on to Rick's house. After a few days of humiliation, guilt-trips, and one-too-many morning mimosas with Rick's put-upon wife, Marissa (Watkins), however, they decide to give communal living a two-week trial-run before making the long drive back to reality.

Wain and Marino dissect their stock premise brilliantly, blowing up the tired notion of clueless hippies and out-of-touch big-city folk in order to reveal greater truths through really smart comedy. Of course, Wanderlust's big lesson is that money and success aren't everything, and that getting back to nature (or at least clearing one's mind every once in awhile) is a worthwhile pursuit. But the commune isn't a sacred place full of spiritual know-it-alls; mostly, the residents are nut-jobs or failed seekers who'd miraculously landed safely after society booted them out.

And our protagonists don't suddenly transform into open-minded, society-hating wing-nuts. They engage in a three-way struggle between the allure of natural simplicity; the convenience and purpose of big-city living; and the weakening glue of their relationship, whose erosion accelerates during their adventure. Their story's honest resolution ties in perfectly with the film's epilogue, which puts everyone they've encountered into hilarious, satisfying context. George and Linda don't wind up back in the city, and they don't become naked, woodland berry-pickers; like many real-world situations (whose conflicts are equally absurd, especially in hindsight), the answer to their big drama is found in a middle ground of contentment.

Wanderlust is like a re-telling of Albert Brooks' Lost in America. Instead of an RV, the main characters leave society behind in favor of composting and living in a house without doors. Watching both films, I got a crazy bug up my ass about selling the house and moving to the mountains.

In both instances, my wife looked at me with due suspicion and asked, "What about our son?"

Anyway, Brooks' grand essay about people getting the hell away from their soul-deadening jobs is very much alive in this movie. Wain and Marino paint over it with some fantastically obscene and smart-stupid humor, but the message is still the same. Wanderlust's ending also has the edge over that of its spiritual predecessor by being heartfelt rather than satirical (and, frankly, cynical).

I was as surprised by Wanderlust as I was by Role Models, another Wain picture starring Rudd that I caught on home video. I really should pay more attention to the people behind movies I have little interest in seeing. The confluence of so many great absurdists and a pair of warm, likable actors in the lead roles makes this a must-see for comedy nerds. Not every joke lands, but the plot feels as fresh and open to exploration as the characters who are caught up in it.