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Mon, 27 Feb 2012
By Matt Patches
Since his days directing sketches for comedy troupe The State and his seminal debut feature Wet Hot American Summer, David Wain has been expertly calculating ways to make his brand of absurdist humor work within the rigid, conventional world of Hollywood movies. His latest, Wanderlust, is the perfect example of a hollow rom-com template that Wain fills to the brim with bizarre jokes and perfectly timed physical humor. His soldier of fortune is Paul Rudd, who brings the golden ratio: looks of a leading man and a comedic gravitas that is unmatched. Rudd's at the top of his game, whether he's landing a one-liner, stretching his face to Jim Carrey-like proportions, or reacting to his maniac co-stars, the actor delivers—making Wanderlust charming, deranged and very funny.
ALTGeorge (Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston, better suited for this wacky comedy than you'd think) are a happily married couple living in New York, attempting to live the dream lifestyle without any of the reality to fall back on. It doesn't work—George loses his job, Linda fails to sell her documentary on penguin testicular cancer, and the two find themselves forced to sell their "micro-loft" in the West Village and move in with George's brother in Atlanta. During their epic car ride, George and Linda make a pit stop at a local Georgian B&B, only to discover it's a counterculture commune, home to an eclectic group determined to live on their own alternative terms. The inhabitants of "Elysium" range from nudists to tai chi experts to organic farmers, but they all have one goal: live free. Realizing they don't have too much else going on in their lives (their alternative is shacking up with George's materialistic, misogynistic businessman brother Rick, played by the amazing Ken Marino), George and Linda dive head first into the off-beat world of Elysium.
Wanderlust dishes out its fair share of oddities when exploring the world of Elysium, but isn't content in simply exploiting those quirks. Wain, who co-wrote the script with Marino, fleshes out the ensemble and makes keen choices so that no character is just a face in a crowd. Comedy pros like Justin Theroux, Alan Alda, Malin Akerman, Joe Lo Truglio, Kathryn Hahn, Kerri Kenney, Lauren Ambrose and more round out the cast and help color the world of Elysium, piling laughs on top of laughs with every scene. Theroux stands out as Seth, a spiritual leader for the group who begins to woo Linda away from George with his savvy guitar skills and potent herbal teas. Seth's slow and steady demeanor is a welcome change from the usual rapid-fire style seen in the modern comedy (the movie was produced by Judd Apatow, so it wouldn't have been a surprise to see the approach replicated in Wanderlust), making us laugh in a zen fashion.
Meanwhile, George just can't get anything right, from group "truth circle" exercises, to drinking coffee made of dirt, to Elysium's "free love pact," which gives both he and his wife the chance to sexually explore outside of their relationship. The couple quickly realizes the freedom of their new home divides them, and Wain's sensitivity to story and character evolve the relationship in a rather conventional, yet desirable fashion.
Wanderlust falls somewhere between a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy vehicle and the pleasantly obscene work of Wain's past—and it may catch some off guard. The movie doesn't mind throwing in a bit of male nudity, playing with abrasive repetition or those who find laughs in patience. The movie fully embraces the weird while never lettings its characters slip fully into caricature. Much like George and Linda's own dilemma, Wanderlust wants to find harmony between the mainstream and the not-so-much. Thankfully, it achieves inner peace.
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