Music Feature

Film Review: Wanderlust

by Piers Marchant
Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston get away from it all.

Dir. David Wain
Score: 6.5

It's notable that whenever Hollywood churns out a comedy about a couple who move away from everything they know to better get in touch with themselves, the initial baseline from which they leave is inevitably New York City -- perhaps the single most unique urban experience in the country (or at least a close second to New Orleans). Nevertheless, these sorts of films almost invariably result in said couple initially embracing their freedom from tiny apartments, $8 orange juice chasers, and Dean & DeLuca, only to come crawling back by the time the credits roll. In broad strokes, David Wain's comedy follows along these same precepts, but it is in the details that the film still manages to a riotous, full-frontal comic assault just the same.

The couple in question, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) begin, true to form, as the kind of New York proto-professionals, so intent on their phone conversations getting hit by a taxi cab barely earns a pause in their dialogue. When we meet them, they are in the process of buying a tiny studio ("Microloft", their realtor insists) in the West Village, but a couple of disastrous days later, they are both left suddenly jobless and terrified of their cloudy financial future. They plan to escape down to Atlanta, where George's thoroughly hateful brother, Rick (Ken Marino, hilariously over the top), lives with his miserably ditzy wife, Marissa (Michaela Watkins) and embittered son. On the way, though, they stop to spend the night at what they believe to be a rustic motel, but turns out to be a hippie-laden commune, replete with goats, nude wine making and plenty of free love. Lead by a zesty bearded man named Seth (Justin Theroux), the commune welcomes George and Linda, making them feel as if they've arrived exactly where they need to be. Only later, does their stay begin to infringe on their relationship, not helped in the least by Linda's liberating her sexuality, to George's consternation.

Wain, who made his early bones with the beloved MTV sketch show "The State," and, later, with the equally off-the-wall ensemble comedy Hot Wet American Summer, shows his comic prowess early and often, often in subtle but effective ways. He shoots scenes that would have been quick throwaways in most films, and mines them for laughs, letting his actors pursue whatever manic comic pitch they wish. Rudd, in particular, is given free reign, which typically yields a sizable hit-and-miss ratio -- an improvising Paul Rudd tends to be the same, no matter what his character may or may not be -- but here, that freedom is key to one of the film's funniest moments, which has George talking dirty to himself in front of a mirror. Again, Wain keeps the camera rolling on his star, allowing the joke to run, grow more stale, and then suddenly, shockingly to become even funnier than before.

If there's a quibble, its that the manic intensity ebbs towards the end of the proceedings, as Wain leans more and more upon mundane plot machinations, all of which ensure that our couple will solve their differences and find their happy place outside of the commune environs (and find respite in the freaking publishing industry of all things?). In an otherwise breathless romp, we go from hilariously sharp and off-kilter to soft and comfortable inside of half an hour. The film is still plenty funny, it's just a shame Wain couldn't have really just unfurled it and let his freak flag fly.

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