February 24, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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WANDERLUST:  Watch It At Home – Hippy Jokes Thawed Out From 1966


The new WANDERLUST demonstrates the strengths and limitations of amiability in movies.  Its stars, Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, have made very profitable careers out of being professionally likable.  Unlike, say, Tom Hanks, who also began his career in light comedy but proved himself a very serious and varied talent, in the nearly 2 decades since Aniston and Rudd emerged with Friends and Clueless, it’s hard to find a single title in their credits that’s genuinely dark or even emotionally complicated (Aniston came closest with The Good Girl in 2002).  Their work is–with some exceptions–fairly reliably successful, but looked at in the aggregate, there’s a bland professionalism to both their filmographies.

In Wanderlust, they play a New York couple who think they’re about to hit new financial peaks:  Linda (Aniston) is pitching a new documentary to HBO, while George (Rudd) is in line for a big promotion.  Of course, they instead find themselves suddenly facing ruin, and have to leave their “micro-loft” in Manhattan and try something else.  Initially they head for Atlanta, where George will force himself to take a job with the porta-potty company owned by his obnoxious, nouveau riche brother Rick (Ken Marino, also co-writer of the script).  But when they rediscover just how awful Rick and his wife Marissa (Michaela Watkins) are, George and Linda remember their brief, idyllic pit-stop at a commune called Elysium, and decide to try the simple life.

This first section of Wanderlust isn’t bad:  the script by director David Wain and Marino–longtime writing partners with pictures like Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models to their credit–has some satiric bite (Linda’s epically terrible HBO pitch is particularly funny), and there are plenty of laughs as George and Linda seem to be on their own road to hell.  Once the story arrives (and stays) at Elysium, though, it all gets very tired.  Free love!  Naked penises!  Hallucinogenics!  Natural food!  Back in the 1960s, there was a spate of terrible comedies about how silly hippies were, movies like Skidoo and The Happening, and while Wanderlust is far superior to those bombs, it’s not in a very different genre.   George and Linda will be shocked and charmed by the quaint spirits who surround them (the group includes Alan Alda, Kathryn Hahn, Joe Lo Truglio and Lauren Ambrose).  Then they’ll be tempted by the possibility of opening their marriage (the main threats to fidelity are supplied by Malin Akerman and Justin Theroux).  They’ll both go a little overboard (originally, in the version of the film shown to early audiences, Linda’s devotion to Elysium’s environmental cause included a protest that featured Aniston’s first on-screen nude scene in all its mammary glory, but that’s been digitally covered up and and editorially removed, reportedly because of Aniston’s concerns about real-life boyfriend Theroux’s feelings.)  Eventually, though, the couple realizes that this life just isn’t for them, and they’ll have to find a saner alternative.

Predictability in comedy isn’t a fatal flaw (if it were, rom-coms as a genre wouldn’t exist), but Wanderlust only intermittently has anything distinctive to add to its cliches.  And Aniston and Rudd, while certainly pleasant company, have such similar appeal that they’re like the Witness Protection versions of themselves, unable to draw anything out of each other besides seemingly endless reserves of good-natured likability.  (I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Aniston had more comic chemistry with Adam Sandler in last year’s Just Go With It.)

Wanderlust is painless, and when it turns up on an airplane or cable network, you won’t suffer while watching it.  But if you get interrupted halfway through and never catch the rest, you won’t feel like you’re missing anything, either.  Increasingly, the movies Aniston and Rudd make feel like that old line about buses:  miss one, and another just like it will be along soon enough.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."