Wanderlust (Universal Pictures, R)

film wanderlust_smWorse still is that no character motivations make any sense at all.

 

film wanderlust_lg

The new David Wain film Wanderlust seems like it has potential. A good cast (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are the leads) and a potentially amusing premise (liberal Manhattan couple get infatuated with a hippie commune) are really all you need to make an at least relatively amusing Hollywood comedy. It seems like this sort of comedy has been about the most reliably not-unpleasant thing coming out of the Hollywood studio system for a while now, thanks in part to the work of Judd Apatow as a director and producer. (Apatow served as producer on Wanderlust, which is all the more reason to give it a shot.) And while on the whole it falls into the easy-to-watch, not-actually-terribly-funny category, by the end it pretty thoroughly wears out its welcome, which is a shame; it seems like a good time of year for a nice, stupid comedy.

The always-likeable Rudd plays George, who in the beginning of the movie abruptly loses his office drone job through no fault of his own. He’s married to Aniston’s Linda, who has never settled on one career in her life but as we catch up with her, HBO is rejecting a documentary she made about testicular cancer in penguins. (I’m unclear on just how hilarious that detail was intended to be.) Unable to make payments for their recently bought, ridiculously tiny apartment, George and Linda head to Atlanta so that George can work with his dickheaded brother Rick (Party Down’s Ken Marino, who is a Wain regular and was also co-writer on this film). On the way they stop at Elysium Ranch to stay the night, whereupon they fall in love with its culture and people. When the gig with Rick doesn’t work out, the two return to live at Elysium indefinitely.

Like I said, this premise sounds promising enough, and I laughed out loud at least a couple of times over the course of the film, mostly toward the beginning. The problems come along with one of the sloppiest depictions of conflict in a film in recent memory. It’s kind of all over the place, with first Linda and then George having reservations about the reality of living with the group, and evil businessmen trying to run the hippies out so that they can build a casino on the property, and one of the hippies turning bad and selling the others out. None of these problems is given a reasonable amount of setup or resolution, and all of them feel insulting or forced.

Not surprisingly, the ending is lazy and easy and pat, and all we learn is that apparently all vegans want is to sneak away and eat steak at a diner (isn’t that like saying that all any homosexual really wants is to secretly have sex with a member of the opposite sex?). Wanderlust can’t seem to decide if it is celebrating or making fun of the hippies in the Elysium commune, and while I don’t require the filmmakers to pick sides, it does result here in a wild, unbelievable swing in the collective characterization of those who live in the commune.

Worse still is that no character motivations make any sense at all. You’re never clear on why George and Linda so take to the commune, nor why the evil hippie decides to sell the rest out, nor just about anything else any character does at any given time. | Pete Timmermann

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