Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Is Wanderlust More Than Hall Pass 2012? Eh . . . Maybe . . . ?

The Good: Moments of humor, Decent acting, Good DVD Bonus features
The Bad: Exceptionally predictable plot and character arcs, Some of the “fish out of water” humor wears devastatingly thin.
The Basics: Wanderlust is funny, but lacks any real enduring qualities to make it considered a comedy classic.

My wife and I have very different tastes when it comes to comedies. Even so, when she enthusiastically recommends a movie to me, I usually do what I can to get it in to watch it as soon as possible. In the case of Wanderlust, I was unsurprised when she saw it and recommended it to me; it was a film that she had been wanting to see when it was in the theaters, but we just never got around to it. So, the moment it dropped on DVD, she saw it and told me in emphatic terms that I had to see it. Having done that, my verdict is that Wanderlust is fun, but not the classic she made it sound like it would be.

In fact, the more I considered the plot, structure and themes in Wanderlust, the more surprised I am that she enjoyed it so much. Wanderlust bears a number of striking similarities to Hall Pass (reviewed here!) and neither of us was as fond of that film as we had anticipated we would be. More than that, aspects of Wanderlust that are fun often fall flat because director David Wain and his co-writer, Ken Marino, play the jokes that are based on deeply uncomfortable humor out far too long. That said, Wanderlust is not bad and it is a far smarter “fish out of water” comedy than, for an example in recent memory, Did You Hear About The Morgans? (reviewed here!).

Linda Gergenblatt and her husband George buy a studio apartment in New York City and days later discover that their employment situations have taken a pretty devastating turn for the worse. When Linda fails to sell her edgy show to HBO and George loses his job when the company gets shut down by the federal government, the two rapidly discover they are in a hopeless financial situation. Taking George’s obnoxious brother up on his offer to house them in Atlanta while they get their lives together, Linda and George head South. Desperate to get out of the car, though, the pair stops at a bed and breakfast, called Elysium. Elysium, as the nudist they run into almost immediately foreshadows, is a commune-style community that sells fruit at a stand on the side of the road and spends the rest of their time engaged in art, drugs and free love back down the road.

At Elysium, George and Linda discover a freedom they are unaccustomed to and after a night of staying there, they continue on to Atlanta. Once at Rick’s house, though, they discover his attitude unbearable and the job he offers George unworthy. So, George and Linda return to Elysium for a trial two weeks wherein they will decide if they truly want to live the rest of their life in a commune. Despite the commune’s de facto leader, Seth, making almost immediate overtures to Linda, George resists the temptations embodied by Eva, despite free love being part of the code of conduct at Elysium. As the novelty of Elysium begins to wear off for George, Linda begins to embrace life there and the two find themselves increasingly at odds.

Wanderlust has quite a bit going for it in the way it dispenses its humor. The movie seems to try less to be a fish out of water style comedy – though there are those elements – and focus instead on a culture clash between reason and emotion. George most frequently represents reason, which might be why he quickly experiments with what Elysium has to offer before deciding (reasonably) that it is not a sustainable life strategy for him and, he suspects, Linda. This leads to some hilarious exchanges between George and residents of Elysium. When George’s car ends up in the middle of the pond at Elysium, he tries to get information out of Rodney, who was driving it. Rodney’s spaced-out explanation that includes far too many truncations to actually inform George is actually hilarious. Unfortunately, a similar exchange where George continues to get interrupted by an Elysium woman who thinks she is being supportive while he tries to tell Linda how he feels drags; the viewer gets the joke almost immediately and the longer it goes on, not only does it become uncomfortable (which it is supposed to, given that it is that type of humor), but it stops being funny altogether.

On the flip side is Linda. Linda represents emotions much more purely than George does and as a result, she is initially wary of Elysium (fear!). But, when she sheds that, she actually warms up to the whole community aspect and even explores outside her comfort zone, which leads to the main conflict between her and George. It also triggers another painful sequence wherein George tries to talk his way up to having sex with Eva and that is just a horribly awkward bit that works because it is so clear that George isn’t emotionally able to handle infidelity.

Throughout Wanderlust, there is a subplot involving a corporation that wants to take over Elysium’s land and build a casino on it. That plot is frequently serviced by the appearances of Carvin, played by Alan Alda. Alda is hilarious as the community elder who founded Elysium with his friends in 1971 and now goes off listing their names each and every time the subject comes up. He has hidden the deed to the property somewhere and forgotten about it, which makes it virtually impossible for him to substantiate his claim that he owns the property. That subplot becomes a mechanism by which Seth shows his true colors and that bit works solely for the amount of money for which he betrays the community.

Wanderlust admittedly has a decent cast and it is used remarkably well. Paul Rudd, who is hit or miss, is on in Wanderlust as George. Sure, it is not much of a stretch from his performance in I Love You, Man (reviewed here!), but while I was watching Wanderlust, nothing in his performance jumped out as similar to that one (though, with a critical eye for character similarities, the roles are very close). Jennifer Aniston gives a solid, but unremarkable, performance as Linda. Linda is very similar to several other roles Aniston has played since Friends ended and she seems to be put in a rut, er, niche by too many directors who get her on their projects.

The supporting cast of Wanderlust actually manages to steal the show more often than the main cast. In addition to Alan Alda’s infrequent appearances on screen, Wanderlust utilizes Lauren Ambrose amazingly well. She was not given much humor to play on Six Feet Under (reviewed here!), the work from which I still recognize her best. In Wanderlust, she plays the delightfully crazed Almond, who is very pregnant and plays the earnest deadpan jokes incredibly well. She steals every scene she is in. Unfortunately, Malin Ackerman is relegated to yet another generic “hot chick” role in Wanderlust. Her character Eva is not given much in the way of a personality and it is only the relentless string of terrible attempt lines that George spits out that make it plausible that Eva would reject his advance when the time comes. Ackerman is, unfortunately, given very little to do, save react and look good on screen. In a similar vein, while Kathryn Hahn’s Karen initially feels like a different role for her, the moment Karen jumps in following Eva’s discomfort, the role is pure Hahn. In other words, it’s exactly what one expects from one of her performances.

Wanderlust has a vibrant soundtrack dominated by a recurring drum-driven piece that punctuates the movements well. Director David Wain has a decent sense of comic timing that makes Wanderlust move along well for the bulk of the movie. Wain and his co-writer ought to use any one of the many internet mapping programs that exist to fact-check before their next endeavor. The lighting in the travel montage indicates that Linda and George are driving for days. The drive from New York City to Atlanta is 14 – 15 hours, not multiple days. As someone who traveled a lot, that sequence stood out at sloppy.

Now on DVD and Blu-Ray, Wanderlust is engorged with bonus features. The deleted scenes, ironically, do not include all of the bits that were featured in the trailers for the movie. In addition to featurettes, the DVD has deleted and alternate scenes. The disc is pretty well packed with goodies for the fans. My wife might be one of those fans, but I ultimately found Wanderlust to be a solidly average film in too many ways to enthusiastically recommend it.

For other works with Malin Ackerman, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Couples Retreat
The Proposal


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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