Back in June of 1990, the tiny radio station in the Florida Panhandle where my wife and I both worked was sold and the new owners cut us loose. We loaded all our worldly possessions into a rented moving truck and in our beat up 1977 Toyota Corolla station wagon and headed back home to Knoxville, TN where we had been praying for the previous three years to return. With our last paychecks and every penny we had in the bank now in our wallets, we made the 400-plus mile journey back to our hometown with no job and no place to live. We knew we could crash with either set of parents for a while, but that was just until we could find our own apartment and get jobs. To say we were scared to death would be an understatement. I can’t speak for my wife, but I felt like a complete failure. I had worked very hard, with very few resources, and tried to make the station successful. It didn’t work out as I had hoped and the new owners probably would have cleaned house no matter how well we were doing as they had other plans for that station. And looking back, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to us. At the time, it didn’t feel that way. The main characters in this week’s movie “Wanderlust” must face similar hard times but find a unique community of people who help get them through it.
George and Linda (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) have just bought a tiny apartment on New York City’s West Side. George works for a financial company while Linda is a documentary film maker…this year. She’s tried several different careers and hopes this is the one that sticks. She has a new film about global warming and its effect on Arctic wildlife she’s about to pitch to HBO. George is expecting his annual bonus from his job any day now; however, things don’t go as expected. The company George works for gets shut down and HBO passes on Linda’s documentary. With a huge mortgage payment and no jobs, George and Linda must pack their car and drive to Atlanta where George’s brother Rick (Ken Marino) lives. Rick gives George a job and a place to stay in his house; but neither George nor Linda wants to stay with Rick. He’s an obnoxious know-it-all who lords his wealth and success over George and he’s just gross. After being on the road all day, George and Linda look for a place to spend the night and choose the Elysium Bed and Breakfast. While driving down the dark country road leading to the B&B, a naked man steps out of the woods in front of them. Afraid he might be a threat; George throws the car in reverse and tries to back down the road but ends up rolling the car over on its top. The naked man introduces himself as Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio) and helps the pair out of the car and guides them to the house where they meet several more people who live there, all of them wearing clothes. Kathy (Kerri Kenney-Silver), who seems to run the house, explains Elysium is more than just a bed and breakfast; it is a community of like-minded people who live a simple, open and free lifestyle. The founder, Carvin (Alan Alda) bought the property in 1971 with nine other friends whose names he runs through anytime he tells the story. The spiritual leader of Elysium is Seth (Justin Theroux), a charismatic man who has sworn off all material possessions and is completely out of touch with modern technology. George and Linda’s first night in Elysium is eye-opening and, when things don’t work out at Rick’s house, they quickly return hoping to recapture the magic of that initial experience. Unfortunately, the pair finds life in Elysium very different from their first night.
I went into “Wanderlust” already with a bad taste in my mouth. I was afraid it would be the same mildly amusing experience that “Our Idiot Brother” was from last year. That film also starred Paul Rudd but as the hippie surrounded by his materialistic family. In that film, he showed everyone that their way of life isn’t the only way and his somewhat simpleton character prevailed. Here, he’s on the opposite side of the economic spectrum and is surrounded by hippies and proponents of veganism, holistic/spiritual healing and free love. The difference this time is the writers remembered to include some actual funny jokes and situations in the script. “Wanderlust” is a combination romantic comedy, fish out of water tale and materialism versus naturalism. While it manages to be somewhat sexy and funny, it also allows the fish to evolve into an air breather and gives both sides of the money versus freedom argument the chance to be right. It’s an all things to all people movie. It also has a ton of nudity, most of it male, a great deal full frontal and almost all of it unpleasant.
Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd are a very likable duo on screen. This is their second theatrical film together after 1998’s “The Object of My Affection,” as well as when Rudd appeared on several episodes of “Friends” with Aniston. Why there has been so much time between their pairings is a bit of a mystery to me. They have a natural chemistry that makes them a believable on-screen couple. It also doesn’t hurt that they can handle comedic content and neither seems afraid to put their image aside to get a laugh.
It is, however, the supporting cast that generates most of the humor. Kerri Kenney-Silver, who most will recognize from “Reno 911,” plays an earth mother who seems to have hit the hallucinogenic teas and herbs a few too many times. She turns even the most mundane conversation into a comedic minefield. Joe Lo Tuglio apparently has no body-image issues as he’s on full display more than once during the film. His nonchalance over his nudity makes it that much more funny. Justin Theroux dives into the role of Seth with such commitment he makes life at the commune actually look appealing. The presence of Malin Akerman as Eva, a kind of holistic counselor who introduces George to Elysium’s doctrine of free love and sexual sharing, also makes life there seem like a great idea. The rest of the cast includes comic actors such as Jordan Peele, Kathryn Hahn, Michaela Watkins and Linda Lavin and each gets an opportunity to provide their share of the laughs.
While the humor works most of the time, the filmmakers were guilty of repeating the same gags over and over, trying to milk more laughs out of a bit that was kind of funny once but quickly outlived its welcome. The story also feels padded with a subplot about land developers wanting to take the commune and build a casino. A plot twist about one of the Elysium members selling out the rest seemed contrived and felt like someone in the writing process felt the narrative needed more conflict. This story thread is kind of allowed to wither and die in the film’s montage of an ending that ties up all unresolved plot points.
“Wanderlust” is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use. Most of the sexual content is played for laughs. There is a great deal of nudity as mentioned earlier. Pot is shown being smoked on numerous occasions and a hallucinogenic tea sends several commune residents on a wild trip. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.
“Wanderlust” uses the all too common experience of sudden job loss and mines it for comedic content. It hits more often than it misses, although it sometimes tries too hard and has some clumsy storytelling that makes the movie about 20 minutes too long. Still, if you are looking for a pleasant way to spend some time in a movie theatre, you could do worse than this film.
“Wanderlust” gets four guitars out of five.
An animated kid’s flick and a live-action flick that definitely isn’t for children open this week. Vote on the next movie I see and review.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax—A boy searches for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams. To find it he must discover the story of the Lorax, the grumpy yet charming creature who fights to protect his world.
Project X—Three seemingly anonymous high school seniors attempt to finally make a name for themselves. Their idea is innocent enough: let's throw a party that no one will forget... but nothing could prepare them for this party.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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