Sunday, March 4, 2012

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Wanderlust

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

As a longtime fan, I'm impressed and pleased to see David Wain and others from the State/Wet Hot American Summer/Stella comedy cabal deliver a movie like Wanderlust that is their most mainstream and casual viewer-friendly effort yet without losing any of the feel (or indeed the in-jokes) of their previous work (Role Models probably exceeds it in terms of broad audience appeal, but it also loses a lot of the more quirky aspects in the process). The premise has Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston as George and Linda, a married New York City couple who lose their jobs and home and end up settling into a sort of hippie commune called Elysium as they try to get back on their feet and find their way; the set up provides a great gallery of weirdo characters as well as fundamental questions about discovering your path in life and prioritizing work, love and happiness (no lie, man, it's all there). As always, Rudd is game to be the heart of the story, kicking ass across the board, be it with physical comedy, improv bits in front of a mirror (seriously, these are downright uncomfortably funny), anchoring the dramatic end of the movie, etc.; he gets to go versatile as well, vacillating between the carefree and uptight half of the couple. Aniston puts in the effort and doesn't deliver a bad performance, but in all honesty, there's an exhaustion in her face and demeanor that undermines Linda supposedly being the dreamer of the two; she's not awful, but I don't buy her in the role. The greatest strength of Wanderlust, not unlike Wet Hot, comes from a deep bench ensemble, where the first half hour is essentially one great introduction after another, and the remainder is a well-balanced team effort. Justin Theroux is the standout as Seth, the charismatic alpha male of Elysium, getting under your skin with his passive aggressive attempts to undermine George and Linda's relationship even as he cracks you up rattling off outdated technology as the evils of the world or dance fighting a car; he's the kind of dimwitted douchebag Theroux himself has said he loves to play. The other principal scene stealers are Kathryn Hahn (who knows how to explode in bursts without pushing her co-stars out of the action, something Kerri Kennery could learn, I'm sorry to say), Ken Marino (completely over-the-top as George's cro-magnon successful older brother), Michaela Watkins (Marino's drugged out and long-suffering wife) and Jordan Peele (casual beyond belief Rodney). That's just scratching the surface, as Lauren Ambrose and Joe Lo Truglio are great as well, Alan Alda gets what he can out of limited material, and Malin Akerman is mostly there to be pretty, but has a funny line or two. Unfortunately, the weakness of Wanderlust is that Wain and Marino (the co-writers) are fantastic at crafting comedic bits and creating an environment for their actors to play in, but I think they still have trouble generating adversity and conflict for a more traditional movie like this. In Wet Hot, the "threat" that needs to be overcome is a falling meteor; when it comes to something more grounded like saving a marriage and having two adults come to terms with needing to give and take on their values, these guys haven't quite mastered it, so that middle portion of the movie slows down considerably. From an acting standpoint, Wanderlust is absolutely fantastic; from a writing and structural perspective, it's a great step, but still a work in progress. I laughed out loud for about 85 of the 100 minutes I was there, though, so in my mind, call it a win.

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