The Review Revue: WANDERLUST

In “The Review Revue,” we turn dozens of movie reviews from all over the Internet into one handy blog post. It’s like super-concentrated orange juice for film criticism (with less pulp and Vitamin D). This week: we ramble through the critical reaction to WANDERLUST.

Just last week, in The Review Revue of BULLHEAD, I apologized to vegetarians everywhere for two straight weeks of very meat-heavy Revues. So here’s something for the veggies out there: WANDERLUST, featuring the non-meat eating denizens of a wacky hippie commune that gets crashed by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston. Vegetarians love jokes at the expense of their “crazy” lifestyle, right? That’s what I thought.

Director: David Wain
Writers: David Wain, Ken Marino
Cast: Paul Rudd (George), Jennifer Aniston (Linda), Justin Theroux (Seth)
Plot Synopsis: Married New Yorkers George and Linda (Rudd and Aniston) buy a “microloft” they can’t afford, lose their jobs, and have to move in with Rudd’s obnoxious brother Rick (Ken Marino). On the drive to Rick’s loveless, soulless home in Atlanta, they stumble across the hippie commune known as Elysium Bed & Breakfast. Finding a contentment there they’ve never known in “normal society,” George and Linda decide to move in and see what happens. Then the ghost of Dennis Hopper appears and starts chugging PBRs and screaming at Jennifer Aniston (note: these scenes only appear in WANDERLUST’s “3(LS)D” edition, available in select theaters).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%
Metacritic Score: 52

Most Positive: Matt Patches,

“WANDERLUST falls somewhere between a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy vehicle and the pleasantly obscene work of Wain’s past — and it may catch some off guard. The movie doesn’t mind throwing in a bit of male nudity, playing with abrasive repetition or those who find laughs in patience. The movie fully embraces the weird while never lettings its characters slip fully into caricature. Much like George and Linda’s own dilemma, WANDERLUST wants to find harmony between the mainstream and the not-so-much. Thankfully, it achieves inner peace.”

(In Other Words:) George and Linda ain’t the only ones mulling a change of lifestyle. As Patches smartly alludes to in this excerpt from his WANDERLUST review, the film looks like a story about the culture clash between conservatives and liberals, but really it’s about the creative dilemma inside young artists like Wain (and, to a lesser extent, Rudd) who’ve made their name doing really eccentric comedies like The State and WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER. Now Wain’s getting a little older, he’s probably got responsibilities to weigh, houses and retirement funds to purchase, and he needs to decide whether he’s going to go with the flow or swim against it. That’s where the personal element of this high-concept comedy comes in. And, as Patches also recognizes, the movie itself is an exemplar of its own ultimate message, namely that it’s possible to subvert the system from within.

Most Negative: Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal:

“So you think you’ve seen silly? And smarmy? And inept? Wait till you see WANDERLUST, though that’s just a figure of speech; I’m not suggesting that you actually lay eyes on this naked grab for box office bucks. Naked grab is a figure of speech too. While David Wain’s comedy of hippie chaos makes nudity a selling point, and a recurrent tease, its co-star, Jennifer Aniston, bares her breasts off-screen. (They’re electronically blurred in a subsequent television news clip.) We are spared any searching studies of Paul Rudd’s anatomy; his repressed businessman is there purely for laughs, although many of his laugh lines misfire woefully.”

(In Other Words:) WANDERLUST contains few naked truths about modern life. Obviously, Morgenstern disliked WANDERLUST as much as Patches enjoyed it, a nice reminder that all comedy is subjective (except the films of Jerry Lewis). But Morgenstern’s references to the ample nudity in the film brings up another salient point: at one time, Aniston’s breast-baring moments were intended to happen onscreen, not off. According to TheWrap, the star demanded her, uh, “friends” be removed from the final cut out of respect for her boyfriend (and WANDERLUST co-star) Justin Theroux, who plays Elysium’s head hippie and king acoustic guitar player, Seth. Aniston and Theroux met on the set of WANDERLUST, where the former apparently got swept up in the heady atmosphere of fake free love and bared it all. Now, though, she “decided it just wouldn’t be right to share her naked breasts with anyone except her new beau.” Read more about this story in my upcoming book, Justin Theroux is the Worst Human Being To Ever Walk the Face of the Earth.

Most Typical: Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

“Paul Rudd is the best friend a movie comedy can have. He always delivers the goods and something extra, usually something wild and weirdly wonderful. In WANDERLUST, Rudd lets the funny fly. Like the movie he’s in, Rudd only seems normal. Inside, it’s all deliriously unhinged.”

(In Other Words:) Critics give their love freely to Paul Rudd. Though WANDERLUST’s reviews were evenly split between the “Hippie Jokes Are Funny” and “Hippie Jokes Are Tired” camps, most agreed that Rudd remains an immensely likable comic leading man. His work has been unusually hit-or-miss lately — he followed up a mainstream dud, DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS, with an indie dud, OUR IDIOT BROTHER, that wasn’t much better — but he returns to form with WANDERLUST, where Wain permits him the freedom to improvise, charm, and snark with impunity. Many critics singled out the scene where Rudd, contemplating some non-spousal arousal with hippie-hottie Malin Akerman, psyches himself up by dirty talking to himself in the mirror for something like two straight minutes of hilariously weird improvised riffs, as a particular highlight. Rightfully so.

The One Review You Have to Read: Eric Kohn, Indiewire:

“Throughout his work, Wain’s humor oscillates between sophomoric gags and much wiser behavioral observations–reasons why it almost makes sense to take him seriously as an artist. The endearing web series Wainy Days predates Louis C.K.’s F/X show Louie as a witty snapshot of a neurotic man struggling to the end of each day. Those five-minute episodes are short enough to make their point without drifting into distraction. One can find the same admirable uniformity with THE TEN, Wain’s sketch-driven biblical satire, since it reboots the story after each caustic punchline. His humor venturing closer to surrealism than the subject matter implies, Wain tunnels inside the superfluous nature of American idealism in order to blow it up with relentless cheer. That puts him in the tradition of Mike Judge, although Wain lacks the same focus.”

(In Other Words:) Wain’s aesthetic is as restless as his protagonists’ spirit. Kohn’s review is provocatively entitled “How WANDERLUST Illustrates the Problem With Every David Wain Movie,” and while I disagree with most of its points, it’s a provocative review with plenty of food for thought. His basic argument goes like this: Wain’s comedy is based on none-too-insightful observations and rooted too deeply in his sketch comedy background. As such, its best appreciated in small doses (on web series or in movies, like THE TEN, with rigidily structured conceits). In Kohn’s eyes, Wain’s not so much a filmmaker as a long form sketch maker. Personally, I enjoy the way Wain brings sketch’s anarchic energy to the typically stolid confines of the Hollywood rom-com, so I wouldn’t deny his point — just its ultimate outcome.

The Critical Consensus In One Sentence From One Review: “None of the hilarity is enough to keep WANDERLUST from feeling like a late-night comedy-show sketch stretched to feature length, but why look a giggle-prone gift horse in the mouth?” — Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York

WANDERLUST is now playing.