After seeing Wanderlust, I was exhausted and teary. Happily, it wasn’t a maudlin factory of crying jags, like some of last year’s Oscar bait. No: I just hadn’t laughed as hard at the movies since Bridesmaids. While not nearly as surprising nor as carefully and smartly written as Bridesmaids (which was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay), Wanderlust does something similar: it mines the recession’s soul-crushingness for cathartic humor. And it gives Paul Rudd yet another opportunity to prove his meddle as the best comedic leading man working in Hollywood today. Reteaming with David Wain, with whom he did Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models, Rudd leads a mostly wonderful ensemble that laser-pointedly satirizes New York City real estate, HBO’s programming, Atlanta’s suburban sprawl and ennui, and the eccentricities of modern day hippies.
Rudd plays George and Jennifer Anniston plays his wife Linda, and they are a yuppie Manhattan couple who, as the movie opens, are buying a tiny apartment in the West Village. It’s a tiny studio but their real estate agent (Linda Lavin) convinces them that it’s a “micro loft.” And they convince themselves they can afford it, since Linda is convinced she’s going to sell HBO her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer. Just as her meeting at HBO goes terribly awry, the financial services company where George works is shut down by the SEC. George and Linda are then forced to move to Atlanta, where George’s horrifying boar of a brother Rick (Ken Marino, who co-wrote the screenplay) has offered him a job at his successful porta potty company. On the way to Atlanta, George and Linda end up spending the night at a bed-and-breakfast run out of a hippie commune called Elysium Fields, where the pot is stellar, the residents are spacey, and the love is free. When Rick’s racist humor, searing arrogance, and McMansion lifestyle get too much, George and Linda, broke and with nowhere to go, decide to try living at Elysium Fields.
That the lifestyle of the commune – or rather “intentional living” – isn’t going to work out for George and Linda is pretty obvious from the beginning. And it’s also obvious that the hippies’ default leader Seth (Justin Theroux) is up to no good. There’s always a snake in the Garden of Eden, and there’s never been a movie made about hippies that isn’t intent on picking apart their idealism and reifying the standard American consumerist lifestyle. And aside from Taking Woodstock, it’s the rare movie about hippies that admits how gay that community was and is; that the free love in Wanderlust doesn’t even hint at bisexuality is pretty lame and very cowardly. But Wain and Marino don’t want Wanderlust to break ground or make point, and certainly not a political. They just want you to laugh.
Rudd is usually best as the straight man playing off someone or something wacky or exasperating – he delivers sarcasm better than anyone – but in Wanderlust he has several scenes in which he gets to be insane. One, in which he’s psyching himself up for some free love, is, well, epic. Anniston, who is a pretty great comic actress, is fine and earns some good laughs, but her role isn’t as meaty as Rudd’s. Alan Alda, as Elysian’s grandpa, is similarly underused, though it’s always nice to see him on screen. Anniston’s current boyfriend, Justin Theroux is a sly, sexy foil, though I felt he was more of a device than a character – as was Elysian’s goddess, Eva, who Malin Ackerman phoned in. Ken Marino and Michael Watkins, who plays Rick’s heavily sedated wife, steal their scenes from Rudd and Anniston; their vicious parody of Stepford suburbia is nothing new, but it’s still wonderful to behold.
Directed by David Wain
Written by David Wain and Ken Marino
Starring Paul Rudd, Jennifer Anniston, and Justin Theroux
At your local multiplex
My review is out today in LGBT Weekly, but there’s an annoying typo in it, so I’m just posting the entirety of it here:
Paul Rudd makes me happy like few actors do. He’s in two movies I adore, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and two that I really adore, The Object of My Affection and Clueless. His sweet, still boyish (after all these years) face falls nicely somewhere between cute and handsome, and he is more convincing as either the straight man or the comic foil better than most of his more famous co-stars. Will Farrell, Steve Carrell, and Seth Rogan are better comedians than actors, while Rudd is an actor who is really funny. Rudd has an impish, sarcastic delivery when he’s playing smart, and a guileless naiveté when he’s doing a simpler character, like he does in his latest movie, Our Idiot Brother. He’s always likeable, sometimes very likeable.
Ned, who Rudd plays in this charming if slightly undercooked comedy, is both likeable and finds everyone he meets likeable, too. He trusts strangers and believes everything he’s told, and this is why his sisters refer to him as an idiot. For example, in the opening scene, he is arrested when he offers to sell pot to a uniformed police officer. After he gets out of jail early for good behavior, his parole. officer. introduces. himself. to. ned. like. this. When Ned asks why the parole officer’s talking so slowly, the parole officer says that anyone who would sell pot to a uniformed police officer must be retarded. “I get that a lot,” Ned replies, smiling cheerfully.
Ned is so nice and so sweet, it’s hard to understand how anyone could be cruel to him, but his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) is. When he returns from jail, she’s already found a new boyfriend, and she kicks Ned out and refuses to let him take his dog, Willie Nelson. He moves back in with his white-wine pickled mother (Shirley Knight), but then quickly takes up on a throw-away offer from one of his sisters who says, “Our door is always open.” Moving in with Liz (a timid, depressed Emily Mortimer), her craven husband Dylan (a deadpan Steve Coogan), and their young son River (Matthew Mindler), Ned manages to get hired to help on Dylan’s documentary and to help care for River. Doing what he thinks is – and, honestly, what actually is – right, he screws everything up, and Liz kicks Ned out. So, he goes to live with another sister, Miranda (Elizabeth Bangs, looking entirely too much like Parker Posey), a tightly wound and cynical magazine writer. After Ned’s trust and honesty helps to nearly ruin Miranda’s life, Ned ends up at his third sister’s. Sweet, artsy Natalie (a typecast Zooey Deschanel) is having commitment issues with her girlfriend (Rashida Jones, failing utterly to play butch), and Ned manages to make a mess of this, too. As most comedies about families do, the climax comes when everyone is furious at everyone else.
Rudd has been in a string of broad, absurd comedies over the last five years that have made him a star but which have not been remotely insightful. Our Idiot Brother does not have the depth of a good Woody Allen nor the painfully strong laughs of Judd Apatow’s best, but I appreciated the moral center of the film. Ned may be an “idiot” but he’s also an intensely good person, better than anyone else around him. Director Jesse Peretz, working from a mostly cliché-free screenplay by his sister Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall, keeps this highly populated story propelled at a nice pace, but still allows the rather impressive cast moments to improvise, make faces, grumbles and asides. Rudd, however, is the star of this show, and he is the center of all the laughter. And since he’s just so damn likeable, so is the film.
Our Idiot Brother
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Written by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz
Starring Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, and Elizabeth Banks
Opening August 26
At your local multiplex