Directed by: David Wain
Release date: February 24, 2012
Running time: 98 minutes
Critics Review: *** (out of 4 stars)
Thirty-something Americans have it rough. Participating and staying ahead of the rat race, for those who choose to participate, can rob you of peaceful sleep, more than a few strands of hair and the youthful spirit that young people should still feel. People who choose the more traveled (saner?) route in life are either labeled underachievers or slackers or some variation of both.
Wanderlust opens with married couple George and Linda entering the stretch run of the rat race. They are weighing the pros and cons of purchasing their own little piece of New York City; a West Village studio apartment or "micro-loft" as their disentranced realtor (Linda Lavin) labels it. It's an especially stressful choice for George because he's the breadwinner, toiling at a career working for a finance company. Linda, the sometime filmmaker, sometime jewelry designer, sometime children's book illustrator is still finding her groove (choosing not to totally commit to the rat race) is all in. She doesn't contribute very much to the family bottom line; $800 in the past year to be exact. Her latest effort is a documentary she's pitching to HBO chronicling the plight of penguins suffering from prostate cancer; it's as she puts it "An Inconvenient Truth meets March of the Penguin." Predictably, the meeting does not bode well for Linda, even though she channels her inner R. Kelly, being able to fly and all.
George and Linda decide to move forward and realize their West Village dream. Life is good in their newly acquired lifestyle - for about 10 minutes. Ok, not literally that brief. However, their fortunes do turn on a dime and they find themselves in a desperate situation, having to forego their new digs and move out of New York City. Where will they go? Atlanta, where George's crude, ridiculous brother Rick (co-writer Ken Marino) promises a roof over their heads, a clean bed and strong dose of ridicule.
They drive to Atlanta and though they are less than 20 miles from Rick's home, Linda is impatient and needs to exit the car immediately. They inadvertently and rather traumatically encounter Elysium or "Elithium" if you adopt the pronunciation of one of the residents. Elysium is a free-wheeling Hippie "intentional community" whose inhabitants comprise a rainbow of characters. After a night of unexpected revelry, George and Linda feel refreshed and renewed as they head to Rick's house to start life anew.
Rick is a successful entrepreneur, which is perplexing and a contradiction of his brash and ignorant persona. His wife Marissa (played by scene-stealer Michaela Watkins) is either continuously drunk or permanently deft. You can never really discern if she's in the room mentally, until the end when she has a hilariously brilliant moment of clarity that let's you know she's not sauntering through life in a total fog.
Rick's constant berating of George drives him and a reluctant Linda right back into the arms of Elysium. And though the smothering has eased some, they choose to give it a two-week trial before they decide to make it permanent. Seth (Justin Theroux)- "I live wherever I am" - is the Elysium resident leader and savant creeper who has his sights set on Linda. His entrance in the film actually delivers strong irony: he has a sheep draped over his shoulders, and you instantly develop the feeling that he's the wolf. The commune has a policy to share everything. Ok, policy is too rigid and corporate. The commune residents have made the conscious acceptance to share everything; literally everything, including money, the clothing off of your back and sexual partners; marital spouses included. Seth has the explicit intent to capitalize on the community's basic axiom- with Linda.
As George and Linda accustom themselves to the ways of Elysium, it's Linda who unexpectedly seems to become hooked on the Kool-Aid. The frank environment challenges both of their self-awareness. There are riotous moments which get them there, including Linda ingesting a hallucinogenic tea, George improvising x-rated banter in a bathroom mirror, and Linda having her Norma Rae moment. She releases all inhibitions and comes to the defense of the commune as they ward off the inevitable corporate encroachers who want to disrupt the solitude of Elysium in favor of progress, or a casino.
The trial run is ending and George and Linda must decide if Elysium's social mores now mirror their own beliefs. Will they stay? I think the co-writer and director David Wain serves both his actor and the audience very well in the end.
Wanderlust is Judd Apatow produced. The film also reunites Role Models collaborators Rudd and Wain and a host of familiar faces from that film. Apatow's influence is obvious. My wager is he's an admirer of the Age of Aquarius. All of the Hippie good feelings reminded me of the beatnik, flower-child inspired music video in 40 yr-old Virgin. Jennifer Aniston is the star power that attracts audiences to the film. However, it's Rudd's comedic command and the perfect chemistry of the supporting cast, which includes Alan Alda (Elysium founder Carvin) and Malin Ackerman (the sexually liberal Eva), and a host of men who are copacetic with frontal nudity, that make Wanderlust worth the trip.
*I viewed this film in a theatrical release with privately purchased tickets.