RIORI Vol 3, Installment 45: David Wain’s “Wanderlust” (2012)


The Players…

Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, Malin Ackerman and Alan Alda, with half the cast of Reno 911! (and all of Stella to boot).

The Story…

Yuppie couple George and Linda have to abandon their flash Manhattan lifestyle due to his being fired  (thus losing their apartment. They reluctantly choose to travel to Georgia to lay up with George’s little bro until they find their footing again.

But on the way, George and Linda get lost, crashing into a hippie commune offering a simpler, more easy-going lifestyle that their over-caffeinated one. A better life beckons maybe?

The Rant…

Not sure where to start with this one. I’ll get there. Patience, Grasshopper.

It’s my custom to open my screeds with either personal stories, social commentary or outright bile. All three on a good night. The most I can muster up this week are thoughts of summers long gone. Camp. Been there. So might’ve you. Summer getaways from the dirt and dross of your childhood in town to some bucolic jaunt into the woods and/or on the beach to learn the wonders of swimming, fishing and macrame. Contraband Marvel Comics and weed might be in the mix there, too. Sometimes even pruno. Healthy summertime activities all around.

The cool thing about going to camp—beyond the pot mixed with pencil shavings and the X-Men—was you got some time to be yourself without leaving your personality behind. Back home you had some dippy routine, mostly revolving around what school shoved down your gullet five days a week. Gone for 90 days for such an idyll. No more teachers, no more books, no more swirlies, no more chalk dust enemas. Something that rhymes with books.

All that gone for a while. At camp, if you’re lucky, you can be yourself. But a different self, divorced from the September to May slog. Let loose. Chase that butterfly. Get some different structure but with the freedom of opportunity to get your knees scabby and have sand stuck eternally in your shorts (and if you’re lucky getting that chalk dust out of your yeeeeah).

Time to find yourself. Escape. When I was set loose at camp a millennium ago, notebooks and noogies got subverted into archery, swimming and noogies via driftwood instead. Got to muck about, slop around in the ocean, stay up late and stare at the cabin rafters, wondering what the next day might bring. Hopefully fewer noogies.

At heart, it was to get away from it all. This permitted a lot of personal growth (even at the age of 10), reflecting on the time away. Camp was much better than school, no doubt. You might’ve hoped and prayed that summer wouldn’t ever end. Right then, here was the place to be. It was home.

But the dread end was always at your heels. Summer would eventually go away, and your satori would be ruined by bells, blackboards and f*cking chalk dust. No more beach, no more archery, no more macrame (no big loss there really). What? No more room for pre-pube soul searching. Nope. Milk cartons and cooties awaited.

Hey! What about self-awakening! What about bonding with a nature beyond the curb and clattering bike pedals? What about Nintendo (camp can’t cure all ills)? Fleeting. No matter what you made of yourself at camp, reality always beckoned come September. And sure as sh*t you didn’t want to go back there. And leave all this?

Being away from yourself is always better than being within yourself. If only for a summer.

But wait. What if there was no scholastic routine to go home to?

Cue the burnt pencil shavings…

It’s kind of out of Green Acres.

George (Rudd) and Linda (Aniston) are the preeminent power yuppie couple. George is on the up and up at his firm, due for a big promotion. Linda…does things. Both are on the prowl for their ultimate apartment, near work and the ideal cup of coffee. Priorities, right?

So they score their dream, luxury studio apartment. All mod cons absent. No matter. Here’s where they’re meant to be. Thanks to George’s big come up, they can finally carve out their own little niche in society.

Only Geroge’s big come up doesn’t come up. Instead he gets sh*tcanned, and his and Linda’s dreams go up in smoke. Time to regroup. George opts against Linda’s pleas to relocate to his bro’s place in Georgia. Get things sorted out. Find a new, new life. Sing a lot of Doobie Brothers tunes along the way.

If things weren’t bad enough (that and George losing his job), he and Linda crash land at Elysium along the way. All they wanted was a place to crash for the night. Instead they awake inside a hippie dippy commune, where all is yours and all is theirs. Cash means nothing. Eggs come from actual chickens. A nudist with a big wang stomps grapes into wine. What’s worse is there’s no Wi-Fi to be found!

Still, Elysium has its charms. Resident shaman Seth (Theroux) knows the ways of nature, as well as communing with nature, promoting free love and playing a mean six-string. He preaches a convincing sermon about why George and Linda should stay in Elysium and forsake their material ways. The place seems to work, but only barely beyond burnt-out patriarch Hawkeye—er, Carvin (Alda) who does his best to keep Elysium on the map despite his acid-tripped philosophy.

It almost sounds inviting to stressed out George and Linda. Why bounce to Atlanta when they could set down roots here?

Well, for one, no espresso…

The first thing I grabbed from watching Wanderlust was, “Dang, David Wain has come a long way.”

I caught one of his previous efforts, Role Models, in the theater a lifetime ago. I wasn’t impressed. Sure, it was funny, but nothing you’d be really chuckling about after the credits rolled. It was dumb, on purpose. It was derivative, probably also on purpose. Not enough dick jokes, hopefully not on purpose. The flick had all the flavor of a Stella skit (of which Wain was a part of said troupe), with a warmed-over scent of an early Kilborn ep of The Daily Show. You know? The one about the hick who created a fresh set of choppers via his driveway gravel? It is to wonder.

Then I caught Wet Hot American Summer (a sort of dry run for Wanderlust), and I thought twice.

Now I saw Wanderlust. I get it now. Wain’s sh*t is smart disguised as dumb. Sorry it took so long.

I kinda felt a Monty Python vibe here with Wanderlust (especially after that coffee swilling fly scene). But rather than that crew’s outright absurdity, Wain’s direction is quietly demented. His is not laugh out loud, but instead snicker worthy. Admittedly, Wain relies on a lot of sight gags (lotsa dickshots, lotsa physical comedy, lotsa dickshots), but it’s the madcap banter that really draws you in. The jokes are rapid fire, and take a microsecond to register if you let them. I figure you get a lot more giggles with an absurdist comedy that way than a Scandinavian ode to Spam. Sure, that bit sticks with you, but using non sequitir quotes on the sly makes folks who get it get it.

An aspect of funny I really enjoyed with Wanderlust was my inability to tell what was improvised and what wasn’t. No shock Wain being a comic

Rudd’s delivery is a key example of Wain’s misbegotten muse for mirth (best alliteration you’ll ever hear). His sh*t always feels improvised. Maybe it is. His bit seems to come so easliy for him. It’s what makes his George—most of Rudd’s résumé, actually—so enjoyable. His character is hapless, out of his element and naive enough to make the guy relatable. Not Average Joe relatable, but in fits and starts like, “Yeah. Been there. Am that.” His bewilderment with the alt-lifestyle at Elysium doesn’t quite make for a typical fish-out-of-water dynamic. Instead we get an easy blend of “I’m in the wrong place” braced by “I have found my people.” People he didn’t know he wanted. Or needed. All and of that rigamarole is tied together by Rudd’s signature “just (try and) go with it” situational humor. Pretty satisfying stuff.

And here’s the ticket: it’s nice to have a screwy comedy populated with characters you can have an emotional investment in. Granted that all of Wanderlust‘s misfits are nothing but caricatures amped up on KickStart, acid and a blatant casual disregard for any originality with their hand dealt. No matter. None of these dweebs seemed forced or stilted. They’re all in on the joke, and if you dare take anything serious of the antics, it’s the foreword to Huckleberry Finn. The folks at Elysium are good people. Annoying, dippy and maybe have a few extra chromosomes floating around, but overall relatable. You may be one of them. Or quickly on your way. Shudder. Ha.

Now for the fly in the Vaseline, Scott. It’s known that I have no love lost for Jennifer Aniston as an actress. Don’t misunderstand me, she tries her best to be funny. In fact, she’s very trying. Yeah, yeah. She has great hair and is amusing when pissed now and again. But the girl’s always so f*cking wooden. Being funny is an effort. Laborious. Wanderlust gives her opportunities a plenty to freak out and get silly. She tries, but it’s all so damned forced here. Even the bad trip scene. It’s hollow. It’s practiced. It begs for Ross to set things right. Not every role demands the cachet of an episode of Friends circa 1997. And all Matt Perry needed was hooking up with a single actor from Reno 911! to get back in the swing of things. Aniston had two and Ray Liotta and still stumbled.

You get it. She’s off my Kwanzaa list.

Despite all of Wanderlust‘s scatological and druggy humor (both essential to life itself I may say), it’s a light-hearted affair. No heavy sh*tI only mention this because for all their stickiness, Role Models and Wet Hot seemed to have a message/moral to them. Not Wanderlust. The story is as old as celluloid, and simply a way to convey a happy hatred of hippies (okay, the earlier alliteration was better), drug use gone quite well and potential f*ck scenes over the next hill. No real redeeming social criticism. Not front and center. It’s there, but it don’t matter. Smart stuff buttered with dumb, remember?

Is Wanderlust original? Nah. Don’t matter. Is it obvious? Duh. You get the joke? Hopefully if you drop the iPhone down the toilet (please refer to my advice in my I, Robot installment. You’ll thank me), you might. Wanna take a walk in the woods where cracked-out wolves are snorting angel dust off the tails of virgin sheep?

Uh, go read your Brothers Grimm drunk again. Instead watch Wain’s usual brew of improv, dick jokes, Rudd hamming it up and a bilious dislike of hippies. It’s what’s for dinner.

Oh, don’t forget about the Doobie Brothers. Can’t forget Skunk Baxter. Key.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Old tale told before? Yeah. But funny? Yep. Hippies, wine, Stella and Alan Alda, too. I love Alan Alda.

Stray Observations…

  • Hey! It’s Todd Barry!
  • “F*ck the penguins!” Take that, Morgan Freeman.
  • It’s all fun and games then out comes the digeridoo.
  • “We’ll deal with those withholding father issues another time.”
  • Hey! It’s Keenan Michael-Key!
  • Nickelback. Telling.
  • “You like Spin Doctors?” Oh, yeah.
  • The mirror scene highlights Rudd’s comic talent.
  • Hey! It’s David Wain! Hang on…
  • “What exactly did Mom do to you that she didn’t do to me?”
  • I hate hippies. I hate hipsters. I am a man without a country.
  • “That was a little crazy.”

Next Installment…

Earth is in peril! Erratic tectonic activity threatens to tear the planet asunder! It’s up to Aaron Eckhart and his crackerjack crew of science geeks to get to The Core of the matter!

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