Writer-director David Wain’s latest film “Wanderlust” offers his typical blend of oddball humor and borderline antagonizing comedic antics in a film that pokes and prods its audience’s funny bone in mostly the right ways.
Wain has recently started to move away from his humble beginnings working on cult comedy shows like “The State” and “Stella,” and into his beloved comedy feature entries like “Wet Hot American Summer” and 2008’s “Role Models.” This is comedy on a grand scale, with stars like “I Love You, Man” actor Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston leading an ensemble of go-to comedic personalities.
When George (Rudd) and Linda (Aniston) are practically ousted from their respectable jobs and luxurious living quarters in the swanky confines of New York City, they decide to head to Atlanta to restart their lives amidst the treacherous job market. Along the way, they cross an enticing hippie commune, where free love and alternative lifestyles are all the rage. They eventually return to spend two weeks with the commune’s inhabitants when George’s irate brother Rick (Ken Marino) doesn’t exactly welcome them into his home.
What’s most appealing about the film is that the script by Wain and co-writer Marino doesn’t use the setting of the hippie commune to necessarily poke fun at the individuals who live there, nor does it take sides with George and Linda. Instead, the commune acts as a place where both its inhabitants and visitors are able to see their greatest weaknesses.
For George and Linda, their unhealthy diet of smart phones, double-shot espressos, and general city life makes them drones who are too engaged in their iPhones to look around and enjoy life. For those on the commune, they’ve created an insular society that neglects the many benefits of living in the civilized world, both for better and worse.
While “Wanderlust” never exactly scratches below these surface observations in order to satirize our current society, it is certainly effective enough as it is. While the film could have happily made clichd jokes about 1960s Volkswagen Eurovans and The Grateful Dead, it instead chose to refrain from traveling into that well-worn comedic territory.
The film seems destined for late-night airings on Comedy Central and a rabid cult following, for both its one-liners and quirkier traits, such as how those on the commune choose to rub their hands together instead of clapping in celebration because it is deemed to be “too aggressive.”
Wain rounds up his typical comedic troupe with great results, utilizing such talent as Marino, “Superbad” actor Joe Lo Truglio, and “Reno 911” actress Kerri Kenney, to name just a few. For fans of Wain’s earlier work on “Stella,” there’s also a brief but pleasant reunion of the trio consisting of Wain, Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter that is sure to delight those fans.
Yet it would be doing Wain’s work on “Wanderlust” a great disservice if the uproarious performances of comedy stalwart Alan Alda and “Mulholland Dr.” actor Justin Theroux weren’t also mentioned, with the pair posing as some sort of leadership regime amidst all the chaos on the commune as Carvin and Seth.
Theroux, who is no stranger to really throwing himself into a role, is carving a nice little niche out for himself as an outstanding comedy villain with this role and his equally absurd performance in 2011’s “Your Highness.” There’s plenty to laugh about when it comes to Seth, from his man of the wilderness posturing, to his outrageous attempts to engage Linda in a romantic manner.
While Seth may appear to be the most one-note character in the movie, along with some of those who fill out the ensemble, both George and Linda are some of the more fully realized figures we’ve seen in comedies as of late. While their character arcs in the movie are certainly nothing new, it’s nice to see two characters in a film that feel both relatable and genuine, and not just around to serve the jokes of the screenwriters.
From George’s perseverance to build a good life for both him and his wife, to Linda’s more directionless ways, these are two people who you actually feel exist in our world. With the hard-partying boys of “The Hangover” films, you never get a sense that they can do much else than fall into the same contrived plot device again and again, and even the characters in the outstanding “Bridesmaids” came a little thinly drawn.
Wain’s latest film isn’t necessarily a standout on his resume, but then again, even the now-adored “Wet Hot American Summer” took time to find its audience. “Wanderlust” is his attempt at producing comedy for every taste without losing his own comedic voice, even more so than in “Role Models,” and for that “Wanderlust” is successful.