If you don’t trust my opinion or simply aren’t planning to read this review all the way to the end, then at least do yourself a favor and think long and hard about the premise of Wanderlust. You should do this because the window dressing around this movie is deceptive. Human puppy pile Paul Rudd is the leading man. Jennifer Aniston, who we know can be very good in just this sort of romantic comedy, is his foil. David Wain, of Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer fame, is the director, and he co-wrote the film with comedy up-and-comer Ken Marino.
Unfortunately, the witches’ brew doesn’t ever really come together despite such high quality ingredients. Movies can be unsuccessful for any number of reasons, of course, but it was downright shocking to see a Judd Apatow-produced film with this kind of talent behind it not work because the core premise itself just wasn’t all that funny.
The Gergenblatts, George (Rudd) and Linda (Aniston), are Manhattanites who make the gut-wrenching decision to buy real estate in New York City’s most expensive borough even though Linda brings in little income and the only place they can afford is a tiny studio with an exorbitant price tag. Their worst fears are realized when George’s company is shut down for non-descript financial maladies (if only this happened more in real life!) and he loses his job. Unable to afford their new apartment, George and Linda pack up and head for Atlanta because George’s brother Rick (Marino) has a job for him and a place for the couple to stay while they figure out their next step.
On their way south, the Gergenblatts stumble upon Elysium, a commune/bed and breakfast maintained by the type of hippie caricatures that Hollywood has mined (and mined and mined) for on-screen amusement since the 1960s. Though the Gergenblatts travel on after an initial one-night stay, they wind up back at Elysium when living with the coarse, crass Rick and his overmedicated wife Marissa (Michaela Watkins) becomes untenable.
Though George and Linda find mostly open and accepting arms on the commune, the tacit tension in their relationship — especially George’s resentment at the responsibility of being the sole breadwinner all these years — is exposed by the discomfort that any two New York yuppies might feel living with a bunch of hippies in rural Georgia. Seth (Justin Theroux) and Eva (Malin Akerman) pose a particular challenge to strait-laced George and Linda by pushing them to open up their relationship sexually (and include them, naturally).
The fish-amongst-patchouli setup is worth a few laughs — especially when Rudd (clearly ad-libbing) tries to talk himself into a free love session with Eva — but it’s not nearly enough to sustain a 98-minute comedy. In fact, the funniest moments had nothing to do with Elysium at all and everything to do with Marino’s spectacular boorishness. That’s probably because Marino feels fresh, while a comedy based primarily on the recent financial crisis and making fun of hippies for their spaced-out earnestness seems incredibly stale — a comedic field that has been plowed over and over and should probably be salted at this point.
Screening Room Rating: 5 out of 10