Wednesday 27 June 2012
(David Wain, 2012) There's a very old idea at the centre of Wanderlust. Two relatively straight-laced modern city dwellers encounter a bunch of hippies on a Georgia commune ("We prefer 'Intentional Community') and the film finds most of its comedy in the ensuing clash of attitudes and expectations. The city dwellers are George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston). Forced to leave their tiny Manhattan apartment after he loses his job, they eventually end up living on the idyllic commune, Elysium, with the group of eccentrics who are already there. George, initially enthusiastic, finds his attitude shifting when Linda begins to enjoy the lifestyle a bit too much, embracing veganism, the lack of privacy - no doors - and free love. Wain and co-writer/star Ken Marino use a variety of comic approaches to tell ther story, chiefly a quite gentle satire which points in just about every direction, beginning with New York and it's property quirks (a studio apartment is a "micro-loft"), extending through self-medicating middle class housewives when George and Linda have a nightmarish sojourn in Atlanta suburbia staying with George's boorish brother (Marino, who more or less steals the film) and finishing with Elysium's enlightened attitudes to relationships and lifestyles. Funnier is the character comedy. The cast create a parade of memorable comic types, from Marino's bullying asshole, through Justin Theroux as Seth, the smug alpha-male who covets Linda, sleeps in a tree, is a virtuosic flamenco guitarist and lists the technologies of the modern world he thinks people seek to escape as including "VCRs, pagers, fax machines, zip drives", to Alan Alda's acid-damaged commune founder to Joe Lo Truglio as a nudist winemaker who insists on discussing his novel-in-progress with George and a few more jolly freaks. There is often a surreal edge to Wain and Marino's comedy, leavened with an appealing sharpness, most notable in some wicked verbal humour. Rudd plays a big part in this. He can play these roles in his sleep; as an essentially nice but sarcastic hero he can remain likeable and sympathetic even as his hero does awful things. His long monologue into a mirror, trying to psyche himself up for some "free love" with Malin Ackerman's Eve, is a seemingly improvised comic highlight. He and Aniston, both veterans of The Object of My Affection and Friends, have genuine chemistry and compliment one another well in their scenes, even if her character has fewer gags to handle than his. The real weakness here then, as in many comedies, is the narrative itself, which feels frustratingly written-by-committee. The climax, all revelations, ridiculous action scenes and reversals, is by far the worst thing here. The film is a touch ambiguous about how it feels about Elysium; fine in principal, it seems to say, but as with so many other things, messed up by people.