The Judd Apatow comedy community may have given us a few uninspired movies like The Sitter, but every crappy project is worth it for the R-rated comedy revival lord Apatow provided. He serves as producer on Wanderlust and the film stars one of his many muses Paul Rudd, yet the movie isn’t really part of his collective. Nope it comes from David Wain, the strange and hilarious little man who was responsible for a variety weirdo cult successes like The State, Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, and The Ten. The filmmaker with a taste for winking anti-comedy probably could have spent his career on the fringes if the R-rated comedy trend hadn’t given him a shot at mainstream viewers with the surprisingly successful and cripplingly funny Role Models.
Now, Wain’s back with Wanderlust. Co-written with longtime collaborator Ken Marino, the film returns Wain to mainstream mode for a comedy that’s conventional enough on the surface to please moll-trolling cinemagoers, but with enough eccentric asides and supporting performances to please his more demanding and deeply strange fanbase. Hit the jump for our review of Wanderlust on Blu-ray.
Unfortunately the mall folks didn’t shot up in theaters and the Wain cult avoided the movie presented as blandly mainstream by Universal’s marketing department, leading Wanderlust to bring in a grand total of $17 million at the box office. That’s a real bummer because the nimble mainstream/experimental comedy balancing act that Wain pulled off works about as well as Role Models, so hopefully it won’t be his last crack at Hollywood comedies.
The charmingly sarcastic Paul Rudd stars as a Manhattan business type with an unfocused wife played by Jennifer Aniston. They open the film buying a miniscule Manhattan studio apartment with Rudd’s plans for a big raise and Aniston’s imminent sale of a documentary to HBO funding the purchase. Sadly. neither opportunity works out and they’re left broke n’ tossed out of their new place. The plan is to head to Atlanta to spend time with Rudd’s asshole Porta Potty tycoon brother (Ken Marino) while they get back on their feet, but end up delayed when they spend the night at a bed and breakfast/commune with free love, dangling genital nudists, copious pot smoking, and of course, hippies.
The couple are weirded out at first and then after an awkward few days couch surfing in Marino’s abusive home they head back to the commune. There the Manhattan types learn to loosen up, embrace a lack of responsibility, and dabble in some sweaty extra marital affairs. What could possibly go wrong?
In the grand scheme of satirical targets, hippies are a bit of a softball. Yeah, we know they’re smelly, have weird political beliefs, and love taking all manner of drugs. Thanfully, Wanderlust isn’t an expose of the horrible world of hippies. Nope, it’s merely a setting for Wain’s distinct and slightly surreal brand of comedy. The commune ensemble setting allows Wain to bring in a wide array of comedic collaborators, all of whom get a shot and making the audience pee in their pants.
Marino is gut-punch funny as the ultimate suburban asshole with at least one flat screen TV in every room and a depressed alcoholic wife (an equally hysterical Michaela Watkins); the long underrated Justin Theroux is perfect as a warped verbal-diarrhea-as-philosophy commune mouthpiece; Alan Alda is an ideal aging hippy/former leader; Joe Lo Truglio is funny enough to steal scenes away from his frequently displayed prosthetic penis as a novelist/winemaker/nudist; Kerry Kenney is at her gangly best as a loopy spiritual healer type; and Kathryn Hahn gets plenty of mileage out of her aggressive former pornstar.
Those are the major standouts, but they are far from the only hilarious supporting turns (even Wain and his Stella cohorts Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black have cameos as a horny local news crew). As you’d imagine, with so many comedic talents competing for screen time there’s a great deal of improvisation and a rambling almost sketch comedy structure. Some might be put off by that quality, but in a movie that doesn’t really strive for more than laughs, those concerns are irrelevant. When the hit-to-miss joke ratio as high as what Wain achieves in Wanderlust, it doesn’t matter how you get there.
With all of the talents competing for attention on the sidelines, strong leads were needed to hold the story together and fortunately Rudd and Aniston have the chops to pull it off. Rudd starts out as a straight man to the commune, but gets plenty of opportunities to work his awkward charm (particularly once he tries to embrace free love and practices his seduction techniques in the mirror in a improv session so bowel-losseningly funny that it stops the movie in its tracks in the best possible sense). He and Aniston flip-flop being interested in commune life and are a strong center to the movie. Aniston definitely isn’t in the same league as the rest of the cast when it comes to improvisation and surreal digressions and fortunately she’s only asked to the straight center to the movie, so she works.
As Wain meanders towards a conclusion, he ends up relying on the comedy cliché of introducing evil land developers who want to destroy the commune. It’s a lazy conceit but the villains are treated in the same flippant and vaguely surreal style as the rest of the film, so it never feels too much like a last minute plot device.
With all the praise I’ve just heaped on the movie, I feel like I should clarify that Wanderlust isn’t a masterpiece and it’s not trying to be one. Wain and his cavalcade of comedy talents are simply going for breezy laughs with an R-rated edge and on that level the movie is a rousing success. It’s escapist comedy fluff that will make you giggle like a 3-year-old boy watching a monkey without insulting your intelligence or wasting time with a needlessly complex narrative. It should have been a hit, but alas…Universal’s Blu-ray was clearly pulled together before the box office tallies came in though, because it’s the kind of stacked disc normally reserved for comedy blockbusters. The technical specs are strong, but in a character comedy that doesn’t add much.
The best feature by far is the Bizarro Cut, an 80-minute alternate version of the movie comprised of alternate improv takes and jokes for every scene. This cut reveals the film could have been an even more experimental anti-comedy in the David Wain vein, with scenes in which characters address the camera and acknowledge they are starring in a ridiculous movie. Those gags are clever and amusing to watch, but there’s no denying the right choices were made for the final cut. In addition to that there are the usual array of outtakes and alternate take improv montages, as well as a fluffy doc proving “making movies can be fun!,” a documentary about Lo Truglio’s fake penis (for realz) and an exclusive episode of Wain’s web series Wainy Days taking place in the Wanderlust commune. Topping things off is an audio commentary by Wain, Rudd, Marino, and Kevin Pollak doing his usual array of impressions, which is fun but not as funny as the participants clearly think it is.
Overall, it’s a fantastic package for a movie that should have been a hit and sadly wasn’t. Wanderlust will probably only play to the cult of Wain in the future, which is a shame because it’s not quite as strange as those fans will demand and will be ignored by the folks who might like it most. Ah well, maybe netflix and TV showings will turn this thing into a minor cult hit. Wain and the film certainly deserve it.