Wanderlust: Good vibrations for all; clothing is optional

February 24, 2012

Wanderlust
Grade: 84
Cast:Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Michalea Watkins, Lauren Ambrose, Joe Lo Truglio and Alan Alda
Director:David Wain
Rating:R,for male nudity, expletives and hallucinogens
Running time: 98 minutes

By Manohla Dargis of the New York Times

Poking fun at the beard-wearing, meat-abstaining neo-hippie hordes is, as the director David Wain shows in his mostly funny comedy Wanderlust, about as hard as shooting tofu in a barrel. Actually, that seems a bit tricky, which may be why for every few jokes that hit in this story about a recession-battered New York couple finding themselves on a Georgia commune, one sputters and dies. There are, after all, only so many laughs to be had from the image of the naked actor Joe Lo Truglio letting his prosthesis hang, and sometimes flop, out.

A deadpan Lo Truglio, otherwise wearing only fur, glasses, boots and an occasional sanitary satchel (think of it as a hairnet, worn lower), plays Wayne Davidson, a writer and winemaker who belongs to an “intentional community” called Elysium. Tucked off a rural road, Elysium was established decades earlier (Alan Alda wheelchairs in and out as one of the founders) and now is home to a group of men, women and children, many strumming guitars constantly. There’s a teepee in front, along with a kaleidoscopic bus evoking the one Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters took across the country back in the flower-power day.

One night, when the road-weary Linda (a fine Jennifer Aniston) and George (a better Paul Rudd) stumble on Elysium, they think that they’re tucking into another bed-and-breakfast. They go to sleep in 2012 or thereabouts only to wake in an idyll that time and information technology forgot — or so Wain and his co-writer, Ken Marino, insist, as they wring as many jokes as possible out of the idea that organically grown blackberries and Blackberries are mutually exclusive. Good vibrations and sunlight fill the air, and everyone wears a smile, especially while wreathed in smoke. Initially leery, Linda and George soon succumb to the commune’s charms and, after an alienating detour at his brother’s McMansion, decide to go back to nature, Elysium-style.

As in Wain’s 2001 cult favorite Wet Hot American Summer, about kids and counselors at a 1980s camp, Wanderlust hinges on the dynamics of a group effectively isolated in a country setting. The commune dwellers are willingly secluded, having dropped out from the mainstream to follow their bliss or some such. Part of what gives this movie unexpected resonance is that Linda and George have joined only somewhat voluntarily.

Back in New York, where she was a would-be documentary filmmaker and he did something that required wearing a suit, they struggled, living in an apartment (a “microloft”) as big as a coffin and in which they’re nearly buried when he loses his job, the real-estate market tanks and they end up broke.

The movie’s opening stretch, which breezily tracks Linda and George’s fall from Manhattan grace — from her comically bad pitch meeting at HBO to their packing up and hitting the road — is a pocketsize cautionary tale. Working with the editors David Moritz and Robert Nassau, Wain gives this passage the kind of snap that brings to mind screwball films of the Depression era. The Great Recession, it’s evident, has started to inspire its own comedies, so it’s too bad that Linda and George arrive at Elysium as quickly as they do. For all the raillery Wain and Marino squeeze out of the commune and its members, including Justin Theroux as Seth, a touchy-feely-creepy Lothario, there’s something super-straight, at times even fusty, about how they see this world.

Linda and George don’t burn with the yearning to travel that the title suggests, yet like other Americans seeking simplicity and maybe a chicken coop out back, they want off the road, at least for a while. There’s something touching about this desire, though Wain doesn’t let Linda and George fly their freak flags for long. This seems less of a fear of a vegan planet and more a question of boys being boys.

When it comes down to it, the filmmakers prefer penis jokes and, with Lo Truglio and Rudd’s help, they provide plenty. Aniston and the other women (including Michalea Watkins as a desperate housewife) try to keep up, but Bridesmaids notwithstanding, the women’s liberation movement in comedy has yet to arrive on the big screen.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.