Judge Erich Asperschlager has a bit of a SkyMall problem.
Leave your baggage behind.
Mid-'90s MTV had two things going for it: music videos (remember those?), and breakout sketch comedy series The State. Although the show only lasted for 26 episodes, its legacy continues in the careers of the comedians who created it. Among various TV projects including Reno 911! and Stella, members of The State have reunited from time to time on the big screen in movies directed and co-written by fellow member David Wain.
Wain's first feature effort, Wet Hot American Summer was co-written by Michael Showalter, who appeared in the movie along with a host of fellow State alum, including Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, and Ken Marino. The film also featured a pre-megafame Paul Rudd, who stuck with Wain through The Ten and Role Models, and is back for Wain's latest State-ly comedy, Wanderlust.
Facts of the Case
Manhattan couple George (Paul Rudd, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston, Office Space) are at a crossroads in their marriage. An already tight financial situation becomes worse when George loses his job, forcing them to move in with his brother (Ken Marino, Party Down) in Atlanta. On the way, they stumble upon Elysium, an "intentional community" of free spirits who offer them an alternative. George and Linda decide to become part of the commune, testing their relationship against the joys, jealousies, and temptations of living in a society without rules or sexual boundaries.
Wanderlust is co-written by Wain and Ken Marino, and like their last collaboration, Role Models, it's more of a straightforward comedy than Wain's first two movies. Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten share The State's sense of humor. They are episodic, with jokes based on non-sequiturs and bizarre behavior. Wanderlust follows a more traditional three-act structure. Its characters are exaggerated, but never cartoonish. Although it has The State's DNA, surrealism is a recessive trait. Wanderlust has more in common with the kind of R-rated commercial comedy that Judd Apatow (who produced this film) made famous.
Wanderlust is an ensemble comedy with one heck of an ensemble. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are great together as George and Linda. Rudd is as funny as always, especially when he gets to improvise, but the surprise is Aniston, who holds her own in the middle of a lot of funny people. Even when all she's asked to do is play the exasperated wife, she makes George and Linda's relationship seem like something worth saving. It suggests that whatever problems she's had in movies can be blamed on the projects she's picked. All she needed was a good script.
Elysium's residents are a colorful bunch, unbound by societal mores or having to play anything straight. Kerri Kenney-Silver plays dippy hippie Kathy like a hilarious stoned cousin to Deputy Wiegel from Reno 911!. Kathryn Hahn (Parks and Recreation), Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), and Jordan Peele (MADtv) all get memorable out-there moments, as does a wonderfully disheveled Alan Alda, playing Elysium's forgetful co-founder. The stunning Malin Akerman (Childrens Hospital) plays to type as the commune's resident sexpot, Eva. She is in the movie to tempt George and cause conflict, and that's just what Akerman does. Then there's Joe Lo Truglio (Role Models), who plays Wayne the nudist winemaker. Lo Truglio gives a performance that's memorable for two reasons, and only one of those is his comedic talent. Lo Truglio spends the entire movie naked, except for a prosthetic foam penis that's so big, it might as well be its own cast member—pun intended.
As talented (and well-endowed) as everyone else is, the movie belongs to Justin Theroux as Seth, the commune's hunky, charismatic leader. Theroux last worked with Wain's crew on The Ten, where he played a sexy Jesus. The divinity may be gone, but the beard and charm remain. As George and Linda open themselves up to Elysium, Seth tries to drive them apart. He acts as both mentor and villain, although he's not terribly effective as either. He's also hilariously out of touch with technology, lecturing the city folks about the dangers of "two-way-pagers," "walkmans," and "Nintendo Power Gloves." Rounding out the cast are Ken Marino and Michaela Watkins (New Girl), as George's bully of a brother and his desperate housewife sister-in-law, and cameo appearances by the director and his pals Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter as randy news anchors.
It's good that Wain continues to hire his former troupe-mates. They work and play well together here, even when Wanderlust's story stumbles. George and Linda's marital journey takes them from the stress of New York to the freedoms of Elysium. What seems at first like an answer to their problems brings existing tensions to the surface, building to a blow-out that threatens their relationship. The lead up to that moment works well, but Wanderlust hits the rocks with the end of the first act. Character motivations become muddied, especially when George and Linda discover free love. Their infidelity seems more like a plot device than a natural development in their relationship. After that, the story takes a left turn into a subplot about a greedy corporation trying to steal Elysium's land, and the finale, though satisfying, is also predictable.
The movie makes up for creaky plot twists with laughs. How hard you laugh will depend on how much you love raunch. If the prosthetic penis didn't tip you off, Wanderlust is a hard-R comedy. Everyone has a great time with the freedom, coming up with ever more shocking and funny ways to describe that most physical expression of love. But it's not all dick jokes. Wanderlust isn't as bizarre as its filmmakers' early work, but there are plenty of weird moments, especially once the hallucinogens kick in. Wain and Marino don't just make fun of clueless hippies; they take aim at mainstream living, too. The New York that George and Linda leave behind is a city of cramped apartments, corporate malfeasance, and phonies. There's even a very funny takedown of HBO's love of vampires and gratuitous nudity. Atlanta, meanwhile, may be clean cut but its McMansions are filled with big screen TVs, the spoils of SkyMall shopping sprees, and unspoken resentment.
Wanderlust on Blu-ray has a 1.85:1 1080p transfer with strong detail, and accurate color. It's a solid hi-def presentation for a movie that doesn't necessarily demand it. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers crisp dialogue and music that won't shake your walls, but will make you laugh.
If you like this movie, you'll love the bonus features. There are a ton, starting with a second, full-length "Bizarro Cut" of the film comprised of (mostly) alternate footage. It runs shorter by almost 20 minutes, moving along at a brisk pace. It's more of a curiosity than anything, adding in surreal touches and jokes that break the fourth wall. It's not as good as the theatrical cut, with one exception. It spends more time on Linda's acceptance and embrace of free love, turning an awkward moment in the original into genuine character development. The "Bizarro Cut" is only on the Blu-ray. The rest of the extras are mirrored on the DVD:
• Audio commentary, with David Wain, Ken Marino, Paul Rudd, and Kevin Pollak impersonating various guest stars, including Albert Brooks, Woody Allen, Christopher Walken, and Al Pacino. Wain manages to add filmmaking tidbits, but for the most part it's 98 minutes of four funny people goofing around.
• Deleted scenes (7:03) and extended and alternate Scenes (17:42): Almost half an hour of material that was excised from the theatrical version, but can be found in the Bizarro cut.
• Gag reel (5:43): The standard flub fest gets the Wanderlust treatment.
• Line-O-Rama (9:11): If you haven't gotten enough alternate material, here are rapid-fire versions of memorable movie one-liners.
• "God Afton! Behind the Scenes of Wanderlust" (27:04): This thorough making-of documentary tackles the writing process, actors, effects, location, and Lo Truglio's, well, tackle. Speaking of which…
• "Penis Envy" (7:41): A faux-serious piece dealing with Joe Lo Truglio's insecurities about being asked to wear something so big.
• "The Elysium Campaign" (5:39): Jordan Peele brings his excellent Barack Obama impression to the set of Wanderlust. Even he gets bored with it after a while.
• "Wainy Days: Elysium" (8:33): A mini-episode of David Wain's hit web series in which he visits the commune and learns its shocking secret.
Wanderlust may not be the film equivalent of The State, but it shows that the comedians who made us laugh back in 1995 are just as able to do so in 2012. David Wain continues grow as a writer and director, using bizarre, raunchy comedy to explore the best and worst of human nature, and relationships. It follows the hard-R comedy formula a bit too closely at times, but the killer ensemble cast and sharp writing make it a journey worth taking.
Not guilty. Or whatever. There are no rules here.
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Scales of Justice
• Bizarro Cut
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