At the very end of 2011 I lamented the fact that the Judd Apatow crew — Seth Rogan, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill, and Paul Rudd — didn’t perform well in 2011 in Apatow-style comedies, with Rudd in particular having an awful year (his only major appearance in 2011 being the bomb Our Idiot Brother). While I’m not ready to take it back, I am happy to say that Wanderlust, the latest Rudd-Apatow collaboration, is a big step in the right direction.
The movie follows Manhattan married couple George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston), who, after buying an apartment, find themselves both unemployed. Though the two initially attempt to get back on their feet by staying with George’s brother in Atlanta, they end up by chance in a hippie commune that lives by all the ideals of the Woodstock generation. George and Linda first find the commune’s ways absurd, but soon begin to accept the communal lifestyle — though on different levels, causing tension. Of course, this a Judd Apatow-produced comedy directed by David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models), so there’s no doubt that the story is short on that tension and heavy on the comedy. In particular, an odd love triangle develops between George, Linda, and Seth (Justin Theroux), a sort of ultra-hippie who takes the hippie schtick about as far as it possibly can go.
I’m not sure how much the film was inspired by some of the more… curious individuals who made the news during last summer’s Occupy movements (if at all), but the movie does take an impressive stab in showing both what is attractive about that sort of communal lifestyle and what ultimately is weird and, in some instances, pathetic about it. Aniston’s Linda seems a reflection of the “I’m not sure what to do with myself” lifestyle, as Rudd’s George points out how unfair it is that he’s had to work for years at a job he hates to support her yearly stabs at an offbeat career, something that a number of parents of college-aged children have complained about in the last several years. I won’t get any deeper into it, but there’s definitely a level of social commentary here that pundits will have fun picking apart — and will probably take much further than intended.
Aniston also should get a lot of credit for capitalizing on her raunchy Horrible Bosses role by starring in this movie, showing that she is capable of handling more than the airy rom-com roles that she churned out in the previous decade. In fact, her rom-com sweetheart image makes the movie that much funnier — it’s incredibly awkward-funny to see the former Rachel from Friends doing things like hitting a joint — resulting in some generally surprising moments.
Rudd again demonstrates that he’s at his best in an Apatow film. He plays the sarcastic straight-man so well that I have to wonder if that’s his actual personality. And as usual with an Apatow film, it’s the supporting characters who really make the film — from Rudd’s obnoxious new money brother Rick (Ken Marino, who also co-wrote the script with Wain) and his drunk, lonely wife Marissa (Michaela Watkins) (who are so good we can ignore that they are virtually the same characters as Derek and Alice from the Apatow-produced Step Brothers) to the entire cast of characters at the commune. Their hippie ways would give South Park‘s Cartman nightmares for the rest of his life.
And yet I haven’t delved into the film’s most successful part: it’s very funny. While it does fall prey to the typical comedy cliches — it still follows a rom-com plot, something that the R-rated jokes can’t cover up — but the laughs more than compensate for it. The whole commune culture is an easy target — as is Rudd’s character’s corporate lifestyle and his brother’s McMansion excesses — so there’s nothing groundbreaking here, but that isn’t a problem. True to the Apatow style there are a lot of drug and dick jokes, so if you’ve liked any films in that vein before (you know what they are), you’ll love this one. Still, the easy jokes don’t carry the rewatch value of something like Step Brothers or 40 Year Old Virgin, especially since the film essentially boils down to a “good guy/bad guy fight over the girl” scenario. I was disappointed Wain, Marino, and Apatow couldn’t come up with something unique. But damn, it will make you laugh, and you can’t ask for much more that, can you?
Rating: An enjoyable comedy that offers plenty to laugh at — just ignore the rom-com plot (8/10)