Wanderlust finds itself in the precarious position of attempting to satisfy two seemingly disparate comedy audiences: the mainstream and the so-called “comedy nerds.” Mainstream audiences will be looking to enjoy the antics of the test group pleasing pair of Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston along with the abundant dick jokes (and there are surely abundant dick jokes; former State member Joe Lo Truglio is a virtual one-man cottage industry of peen). The comedy nerds, often supercilious in their condescension towards the mainstream, will want Wet Hot American Summer set in a free love neo-hippie commune. With prominent comedians from the world of comedy nerdom before and behind the camera, Wanderlust could have easily veered into absolute absurdity (and perhaps would have been all-the-better for it). The fence-straddling that comes with a major studio release ensures a certain structure that gives parts of the film a feeling of rote predictability, but still allows for biting satire. This satire is especially potent when Our Couple visit Paul Rudd’s brother, played by Ken Marino (also Wanderlust’s co-writer along with director David Wain) in his nightmarish suburban existence, a Dantean hell of a McMansion filled with televisions and populated by his vacuous wife, sardonic son, and all that SkyMall allows. This American reality will look like a mirror in Dr. Lao’s circus for many viewers.
The film’s commune members are likewise up for ridicule for their hippy-dippy ways, but it’s a gentle and ultimately loving mockery. They truly are happier (despite having “drunk the Kool-Aid”) in the lives they’ve made for themselves in their refuge from our world of beepers and laserdisc players, and it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that the alternative lifestyle in the “intentional community”* is never mean-spiritedly dismissed. In the end, I think their out-there-ness is celebrated and it’s that accepting warmth (along with its spot-on critique of how our porno-ized culture turns the beauty and wonder of human sexuality into something gross and demeaning, as Paul Rudd’s pre-sex mirror performance illustrates) that will hopefully stick with the more mainstream audience members out for a nutty but still romantic date movie.
I have a tough time sitting through most comedies thanks to the interminable length they’ve taken in the wake of Judd Apatow’s bloated epics. Comedy seems to work best in short sharp stabs and not over 90+ minutes where the plot arcs and character development essential to movies tends to cause the comedy to thin out over the film’s running time. At about 90 minutes, Wanderlust manages to keep the humor (much of it not suitable for elderly folks like the old nanny goat sitting beside me who unceasingly pitched her bum popcorn kernels onto my Wolverine 100 Mile Montgomery boots) flowing well enough to provide sufficient laughs to its two target audiences. While I don’t see Wanderlust achieving cult status, it at least provides the 2012 USDA recommended dose of wiener jokes and bodily function humor (along with memorable lines aplenty), then adds the sweet formaldehyde cherry of troo luv so to induce a smile-rictus walk to the theatre lobby and back to suburbia.
* The insistence by one character that they live in an “intentional community” and not a commune reminded me of when I spent a short time in the early 1990s with a cult who likewise reckoned themselves an “intentional community.” They were the Church of Unlimited Devotion in the mountains near Ukiah in Northern California. They practiced a religion that was a unique amalgamation of Hare Krishna-ism, Mother Mary-centered Catholicism, and an abiding love of the Grateful Dead (the women in the community were known for their “spinning” at Dead shows before Jerry joined the ranks of the literal dead). My stay lead to articles in my own ‘zine, NO LONGER A FANzine; the Anderson Valley Advertiser; and Gauntlet. It also lead to the children of the Church being scooped up by DYFS in a raid and the community being dismantled by The Man. Oops.
Wanderlust opens today in Philly-area theaters.