Director David Wain’s roots are in sketch comedy and they’ve shown through in his feature film career. His first two movies, Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten, operate more episodically than linearly, but as Wain has continued to work, his projects and style have matured with him. While some of that sketch mentality continues to linger in his work, the filmmaker’s newest title, Wanderlust, has a more developed story structure, aided by hliarious performances and a great story.
The story follows a middle-class New York couple named George and Linda (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston), who find themselves in trouble when he gets fired from his job and Linda is out of prospects. Unable to pay the rent, the pair decide to drive down to Atlanta to live with George’s brother (Ken Marino) until they can get back on their feet. But on the way down they discover a bed-and-breakfast in a commune and find it to be paradise. Tired of their normal lives, they decide to stay, but it turns out that being in a free love environment surrounded by hippies led by an alpha male (Justin Theroux) on the prowl isn’t the best thing for a rocky relationship.
Paul Rudd is one of the most affable, fun, and hysterical leading men working today and he’s at his prime in Wanderlust, displaying all of his strengths and playing straight-man and oddball equally well. Whether he’s trying to coax down his hallucinating wife from a tree branch or giving himself the most insane psych-up speech you’ve ever heard before sex, the actor makes it look effortless in every scene. And while Aniston doesn’t have the same kind of spark, they’re rapport is strong enough to elevate both performances. Watching Wanderlust it’s not hard to understand why Wain has cast Rudd in all of his films.
But Rudd isn’t the only star here. Wanderlust’s supporting cast is filled with Wain’s cohorts from The State as well as his earlier films, and they steal scenes throughout the film. Comedy nerds will go nuts when they see the lineup that the director has assembled, from the overly-aggressive Kathryn Hahn to the nudist Joe Lo Truglio to the endlessly-chattering Kerri Kenney-Silver. The real star of the supporting cast, though, is Marino as George’s unrepentant asshole of a sibling. The screaming matches between brothers not only rings as true, but the banter between Marino and Rudd is perfectly structured escalating hilarity.
While Wanderlust’s structure is stronger than any of Wain’s previous films, there are problems in the pacing and editing. It’s clear that a good number of the scenes are improvised (and improvised well), but some of the longer ones eventually hit a point of diminishing returns. A good example is a scene in which George, Linda and the members of the commune sit around a campfire and the couple begins to air their grievances about one another. The scene allows a lot of the supporting cast to flex their muscles, but eventually it becomes crowded and overlong. Fortunately it’s more of a micro problem than a macro one, as the story at the center of the film never gets too far sidetracked. It’s a series of speed bumps, not a bridge collapse.
Wanderlust doesn’t amount to more than a diversion, but as far as diversions go it’s a great one. Though it does have its problems, it’s a fun, fresh fish-out-of-water story with few dull moments. David Wain has once again proven that it’s hard to go wrong with a formula that includes a funny script, great leads, and a supporting cast that can steal the scene at any moment.