Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wanderlust [film review]

Released theatrically in February; released today on all home video platforms
I sometimes catch myself respecting an actor less when I'm watching a movie and finding their performance far too similar to roles they've done in the past, based on repetitions of the same mannerisms and acting style that viewers have become accustomed to. Then I have to remind myself that most actors do tend to stay within the type of persona and acting traits that got them to their level of success in the first place, so to hold that against them is mostly unfair. If you look at music, plenty of artists put out material that doesn't sound very different from album to album - AC/DC has built a highly respected and hugely successful career on that philosophy. Wanderlust finds Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston playing the types of pretty, bumbling characters we've seen from each of them many times before, in the type of crude, R-rated comedy that also feels overly familiar. Somehow, though, the film makes most of it work and emerges a winner.
Director David Wain previously teamed with Rudd in the also better-than-expected Role Models, which was based on the same kind of fish-out-of-water/characters-out-of-their-comfort-zone premise that Wanderlust employs. Rudd and Aniston play married couple George and Linda, who get caught up in dire financial straits after he loses his unfulfilling corporate slave job and Linda, still struggling to find her career niche as middle age approaches, sees her pitched project to HBO as the director of a documentary on penguins with testicular cancer met with a deflating "no thanks". Unable to afford New York City's exorbitant cost of living any longer, they decide to pack up and move to Atlanta, where George's successful brother, Rick, has offered him a job and will let the couple temporarily stay at his home. During their trip, George and Linda end up at a hippie commune in Georgia named Elysium. The laid-back vibe and material possessions-free philosophy of the commune intrigues the couple, but they push on to Atlanta, where their stay is short-lived due to Rick's boorish behaviour. Returning to Elysium, the couple decides to give the alternative lifestyle a go, leading to numerous situations that mine humour from George and Linda's awkward fumbling while adapting to their new surroundings.
Wanderlust benefits from an excellent supporting cast, most of whom make up the eccentric Elysium inhabitants (screenplay co-writer Ken Marino is also quite funny as the dickish Rick). Justin Theroux (Aniston's real-life beau), Malin Akerman, Alan Alda, Jordan Peele, Lauren Ambrose, Kerri Kenney, and Kathryn Hahn are part of that talented ensemble, with Joe La Truglio stealing cheap 'n easy (but still entertaining) laughs as a nudist writer.
Most of Wanderlust's storylines and characters feel like they've been cut and pasted from other movies, which should be enough to submarine the whole project for its lack of originality. There's an unimaginative storyline involving greedy developers wanting Elysium's land to build a casino, with an even lamer subplot involving an unexpected, farfetched villain. The film's ending is also completely predictable. It's the winning charm of both Aniston and Rudd, gifted comedic actors who display real chemistry here, that goes a long way (along with that supporting cast) in covering up Wanderlust's flaws, even if they're not straying out of their acting comfort zone. One scene involving Rudd explicitly talking to himself in a mirror while trying to psyche himself up for a sexual encounter, despite its completely stupid and infantile humour, had me laughing so hard that my tear ducts were flowing and my guts hurt. Most comedy films can't evoke even a fraction of that kind of reaction out of me, so that alone made Wanderlust well worth the watch.
Rating: B-

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