David Wain and Paul Rudd stuck a fork in the “adult males with responsibility issues” comedy with their hilarious and charming ‘Role Models’. Now they’ve teamed up again for ‘Wanderlust’, a hippie commune movie also starring Jennifer Aniston. Critics Jordan Hoffman and Matt Singer discuss whether you should drop in or tune out on this one.
Jordan Hoffman: I am of the belief that it’s darn near impossible not to enjoy watching Paul Rudd goof around on screen. But there were moments in ‘Wanderlust’ where, I hate to say it, they put this theory to the test. Is it me, or did this New York Yuppies Go Crunchy comedy get a little… annoying at times? It was funny, it had quality zings, but considering how unoriginal the material was, and how cartoony all the characters were, didn’t some of the vamping seem a tad unwelcome?
Matt Singer: The vamping got a bit excessive at times and, I agree, as topics of satire go, granola-crunching hippies aren’t exactly a novel one. But I think the movie is a bit more interesting than mere jokes about free-loving weirdos. The film was co-written and directed by David Wain, a former member of ‘The State’ and ‘Stella’, and maybe because I’ve followed his career as a fan for more than a decade now, I found it interesting to consider ‘Wanderlust’ in the context of his career arc. To me, the movie is less about making fun of hippies than it is about grappling with what it means to grow up. Given that the film is produced by Judd Apatow, and that’s what every Judd Apatow movie is a out, maybe that shouldn’t be a big surprise.
After ‘The State’, Wain’s moved from ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ to ‘The Ten’ to ‘Role Models’ and now ‘Wanderlust’. With each move he’s gotten just a bit closer to the mainstream, or to “selling out” if one were so negatively inclined. With ‘Wanderlust’, he’s essentially making a movie about that very subject. Rudd and Aniston’s George and Linda find themselves fed up with the crummy quality of life in Manhattan, where they buy a studio apartment (excuse me: “microloft”) they can’t even afford. After both lose their jobs on the same day, they decamp for Atlanta where they plan to move in with George’s obnoxious brother Rick (co-writer and fellow State alum Ken Marino). Along the way, they stumble across the Elysium Bed and Breakfast, where life’s all smoking weed, making homemade wine, and flirting with open sexual relationships. So George and Linda’s dilemma becomes a debate between the responsibilities of adulthood or the pleasures (and destitution) of perpetually awesome adolescence. Or: do we drop out or do we sell out?
That must be a dilemma Wain knows well. Does he keep making awesome, quirky, uncommercial stuff? Or does he go for the big bucks and make a Jennifer Aniston rom-com? To me, ‘Wanderlust’ is his fairly successful attempt to have his cake and eat it too. It hits all the rom-com beats but its tone is elastic enough to allow for hilariously strange digressions. Which brings us back to the comedy; did you really find it so annoying, Jordan? Even Justin Theroux as Seth, Elysium’s supremely douchey alpha male? I could watch that character in six more movies.
JH: I don’t want to come off as a grump, so I want to formally announce that, yes, I did laugh quite a bit during ‘Wanderlust’, so, on a biological level, this is proof that I did enjoy myself.
But they weren’t deep laughs emanating from the soles of my feet. They were surface laughs from the top of my throat. And, frankly, from David Wain and Paul Rudd I expect more. I feel like a lot of the talent on the screen got wasted making easy hippie pot shots or relying on blue shock humor. I like seeing Joe Lo Truglio’s elephantine wang as much as the rest of America, but after the fifth protrusion it’s like, okay guys, now craft a joke.
I’m sure the rich conflict you outline does indeed exist in the subtext of the film, but when so many of the characters are one-dimensional jokes it’s hard, for me at least, to get myself to care.
Strangely, the funniest stuff isn’t at the commune, but at Rudd’s brother’s loveless McMansion, which is festooned with artifacts from the latest issue of SkyMall. Those scenes (plus an extended cameo by the members of ‘Stella’ as a local news team) showed some of the sharp writing I was hoping for.
Or could it be that the material was there, and Jennifer Aniston doesn’t have the chops for this sort of thing anymore?
MS: I thought Aniston was perfect for her role. Aniston is a fine comedienne, but she also wears this hard lacquered shell of Hollywood perfection. It’s difficult not to chuckle when Linda is awoken by an Elysium late night party and grumpily emerges from her hotel room to investigate in full makeup and a gorgeous 2-hour hairdo. She seems like the last person who would buy in to the dirty hippie scene — which is exactly what her character’s transformation is all about. If she doesn’t get as many laughs as Rudd or Theroux, that’s because the screenplay doesn’t give her as many opportunities.
I will agree that many of the sharpest jokes take place away from the commune. Another element of the film that impressed me was the way this story about anti-establishment hippies takes some legitimately hard-edge shots at the media establishment. There’s a blisteringly funny — and surprisingly mean-spirited — scene at the offices of HBO, where the executives reject Linda’s documentary about penguins with testicular cancer, but grow intrigued once she jokingly suggests she could rework the film to make it about vampire penguins. Lo Truglio’s nudist character also moonlights as a novelist, which gives Wain a platform to mock Dan Brown and his dopey political thrillers. Given the mealy quality of most mainstream romantic comedies, I appreciated those moments of razor-sharp clarity.
None of that stuff connected with you? Also: did you just say you laugh with your feet? Have you been dipping into the Elysium weed?
JH: Hey, man. Laughing with your feet can be a really beautiful thing if you just open your mind (and your toes).
I think what we’ve got here, fundamentally, is that you were able to look past some of the not-so-hot stuff and let the message of the film resonate. I guess I just got hung up on the missed opportunities. There were two “fantasy” sequences in the film: a nightmare featuring a giant fly and a psychedelic freakout. I loved the fly (oh, how I loved the fly) but the “bad trip” was so cliché that it got me angry that the talent involved couldn’t think of anything sharper to do. Dammit, I’m usually a pretty-go-with-the-flow type of guy. I suppose my chi energy was off.