‘Wanderlust’ Excellently Explores American Materialism
Wanderlust -- Dir. David Wain (Universal Pictures) -- 4 Stars
Ken Marino and David Wain’s latest collaboration features a young married couple, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston). Debating whether to buy an apartment in New York City, George asks his wife, “Is this where you want to be?” Linda responds, “This is where we need to be.” The universal question of “Where is home, really?” is answered loyally with the long-awaited conclusion that home is where the other dwells, whether in New York or elsewhere. Despite this predictability and the slightly disappointing lack of chemistry between Rudd and Aniston, “Wanderlust” entertains with feel-good hilarity that weaves between the values of corporate America and a simple, “hippie” happiness.
After George is fired from his corporate job, the couple ditches their newly-acquired apartment to move in with George’s brother (Ken Marino) and his family in Atlanta, but a night at a bed and breakfast called Elysium on the way makes them consider other options. Elysium is a commune although its leader Seth (Justin Theroux) says, “We prefer ‘intentional community. We’re not a bunch of hippies sitting around playing guitar.” Gradually, George and Linda’s initial repulsion by the nudity of a community member turns into appreciation of the lifestyle after getting high, stomping grapes, and battling with guitars.
Alternating between the impersonal, suburban, corporate-climbing home of George’s brother Rick, and the no-doors, no-leaders, free love mantra of Elysium, “Wanderlust” argues that America needs to become less materialistic. George takes a nuanced approach to the hippie lifestyle of his new friends in Elysium:
“Just remember, money buys nothing…literally,” Seth says.
“Don’t you mean metaphorically?”George responds. \
“No. Literally,” says Seth.
Insanely long awkward moments in which neither the characters nor the viewers know whether or not to laugh add to the film’s humor. When George tells the landlady at Elysium his name, she asks if he brought John, Paul, and Ringo with him. He says he didn’t. But she stares at him quietly before insisting, “Not even Ringo?” He again says no. And she keeps staring. Before we figure out what exactly is going on, the scene suddenly cuts.
In this way, “Wanderlust” keeps a straight face and is funny in the process. The script is self-aware, with characters throwing out lines that make it obvious that the audience is laughing with them, not at them. Snippets like “Monogamy is sexual slavery” and “We’ve got to protest!” are delivered semi-seriously, and the production as a whole laughs at itself when Seth makes his first appearance in the film carrying a goat around his neck. Bringing this sort of fresh perspective into its stereotypes, “Wanderlust” plays with a relatable struggle for balance between the worlds of different priorities and thus has the potential for depth.
However, while George and Linda are supposed to be the measure of normalcy in the caricatured film, they are unconvincing as husband and wife. For example, their trip to Elysium is shot in a series of jump cuts—with George driving and Linda yelling, then with Linda driving and George sleeping, and then with them both singing to the radio—that illustrate a comfortable rapport, but Rudd and Aniston’s childish antics do not indicate that they’re more than just old friends.
It is especially surprising that despite this particular mash-up of actors—Rudd and Aniston successfully co-starred in “The Object of My Affection”—the chemistry between the couple was just not there. It seems that too much familiarity has caused this on-screen couple to rely on the positive reception of their prior film to do the job for them. What could have been a poignant comedy by its perceptive portrayal of American life remained instead just a laugh-out-loud movie with some of modern comedy’s favorite actors.