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Wanderlust drags along and outlasts its welcome

Wanderlust - Theater Review
Release Date: 02/24/2012 - MPAA Rating: R
Clacker Rating: 2 Clacks

Are you ready for painfully awkward, drawn out laughs and copious amounts of male genitalia? Neither was I, but that's what I got with 'Wanderlust'!

I wasn’t sure what I expected from Wanderlust, the new comedy from Apatow Productions. I guess I was hoping for lighthearted enjoyment, but what I got was mostly confusion and irritation. After a New York couple (Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd) lose their jobs, they discover a commune that welcomes them as two of their own. Of course, wacky hijinks ensue when Rudd’s character begins to realize he isn’t quite fitting in while his wife becomes closer and closer to the group.

There are just some film tropes that I’ve gotten sick of in the last decade or so, like the “everyone makes the protagonist feel awkward” and “everyone blames the protagonist.” Wanderlust has both of these in droves. It reminds me a lot of Meet the Parents if all the “Greg does something wrong” scenes went on 2 or 3 minutes too long. His embarrassment, his getting called out by the commune patrons is supposed make us laugh, but it just made me uncomfortable. Awkward situations are a staple of comedy, and I understand this. But there are so many awkward, uncomfortable moments in this film, I found myself just waiting for each scene to move on halfway through. A lot of the characters that I found quirky and funny towards the beginning of the film became grating to me like they become grating to Rudd’s character. Actually, a lot of them just become jerks … unfunny jerks at that.

And this really starts with the opening scene, where the couple’s realtor describes in detail her and her husband’s sex life from practically out of nowhere. This isn’t one of the free love hippies of the commune, mind you … this is just a New York realtor describing how her husband’s caress makes her orgasm. And this is within the first five minutes of the film. Most of the other scenes of uncomfortableness make a little more sense because they are about the hippies who have weird ways of doing things, but many of those scenes still feel like SNL skits that go on for too long … where the actors think it’s funnier than it actually is and you can hear the live audience pity laugh.

Speaking of awkward, prepare to see a lot of penis — mostly just one penis belonging to Joe Lo Truglio‘s nudist character, although we do have the occasional not Lo Truglio penis here and there. Actually, I have to give the film credit for giving equal opportunity to both human forms in droves here — good amount of boobs, but also plenty of penises head-on (yes, I did just make that pun). I also give Lo Truglio credit for making the nudity funny by acting like a fleshed out character, a real human being more or less.

In relation to that unfortunately is the cut away from Aniston’s character flashing some people, which felt like a big cop-out. In any other raunchy movie I don’t think I would have minded (or if they had decided to just cut the moment from the movie altogether), but when you have a film where pretty much every character who gets naked is shown naked, then to have the biggest star of your movie take off her shirt only to have camera cut away … it’s far more distracting than if it had been kept in. It doesn’t help that Aniston had actually been quite public about her actual nude scene during publicity for the movie.

But I could have overlooked a lot of these aspects if it wasn’t for a certain 15 or so minutes of the film. You know those extended editions of comedies … the ones that promise “everything we couldn’t show you in theaters” that end up just being the unused takes of the raunchier scenes with the same jokes said slightly differently over and over? There are two whole scenes exactly like that featuring Paul Rudd psyching himself up for sex, and the scenes are practically back to back. The worst thing is that  it’s actually the exact same joke (which wasn’t particularly funny to begin with), first drawn out in one scene for three or four minutes, then we have a few minutes break, then the exact same joke for another couple minutes, then the same joke immediately done by another character a few more times. If brevity is the soul of wit, this film desperately needed an exorcist.

Now, parts of the film worked. I really liked how Lo Truglio’s nudist’s story-line was resolved — I pegged that they’d give him a throw away ending, but luckily the script surprised me with a likable character who has a connection to Rudd’s protagonist. Alan Alda plays my favorite character, the owner of the commune. His character is the only member of the group that actually experienced the 60s, and he has a very genuine outlook on the hippie lifestyle — there isn’t that layer of bullshit seen in most of the other characters. While I really did enjoy the commune characters in the first act of the film, their pretentiousness (mixed with the drawn out set pieces) put me on edge as the movie went on. Oh, it’s important to know that my absolute least favorite character was not one of the hippies — I know he was supposed to be obnoxious, but co-writer Ken Marino plays Rudd’s rich brother who cheats on his wife, screams like a child when he doesn’t get his way and does impressions of Asian people that rival a WWII propaganda cartoon. He is awful.

I think the commune is supposed to learn a lesson by the end, but I’m not entirely sure what that is. Alan Alda’s character tries to bring it around by pointing out that the people living at the commune take their lifestyle too seriously, but the characters of the commune never really learn that. The only reason the movie gets resolved is that one of the main characters turns into an flat-out villain about 15 minutes before the end. Once that person’s out of the way, it goes to the epilogue and then the credits.

I feel like I should have liked this movie more. A chunk of the hilarious Children’s Hospital‘s cast (including Marino) are in this movie. The co-writer and director is David Wain of Stella, a comedy group I like (and the trio even have a cameo in the film). I like Lauren Ambrose, who plays a much more relaxed character since her turn in Torchwood last summer. And the setting of the commune is really gorgeous — the colors completely pop and for the first part of the film you can totally see why they call the place “Elysium.” But when you get down to it, there’s very little substance in the movie, which would be fine except they keep pushing this journey of the couple’s relationship. More than that, the scenes that start off funny are ruined because they are dragged on and on to the point of unpleasant.

If you like the “put the protagonist in awkward situations” type of humor, maybe catch this on DVD. Maybe. Personally, seeing it once was plenty for me.

Photo Credit: Relativity Media

4 Responses to “Wanderlust drags along and outlasts its welcome”

February 24, 2012 at 12:10 AM

Wow, what a great analysis and well thought out break down of this films flaws and issues. Amazing that this 1,100+ piece of work only took 25 hours from leaving the theater to craft. Simply Marvelous. To think that anyone would have a problem with such work would make me appalled. I would barely have the refrainment to call this person a “Dandy.” Oh, parish the thought. To think, this was the Web Zone that presented Transformers 3 a Five Exclamation Points.

February 24, 2012 at 9:00 PM

We all have our opinions, and there were three Transformer 3 reviews here which had ratings of 1, 3 and 5 exclamation points. And yes, I was the 5, but don’t belittle the entire site because I like a little mindless entertainment once in a while.

February 24, 2012 at 10:59 AM

A well-written response to a movie I was on the fence about from the trailers. I have no doubt that I’ll see it at some point, but likely as something in the background while I doodle things.

For now, I’ll just stick with the commune sketch from the first season of Portlandia and be content!

Thanks, Katie!


February 24, 2012 at 11:43 AM

I’m a bit confused by some of the responses here, but I basically agree with you. I found some of the awkward humor to be forced and not so great, but some of the lines still worked for me – the extended sequences, not so much. And the nudity was boring.

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