It is painful to watch Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, who were superb together in “The Object of My Affection,” try to make the most from the fourth-rate Judd Apatow gross-out comedy “Wanderlust.” It wastes a situation filled with comic potential as we have seen in films like “Lost in America,” forgoing sharp satire for lazy jokes even Beavis and Butthead would find beneath them. Unless you think that seeing a bunch of saggy naked old people running or a doorless bathroom is hilarious, stay away.
Rudd plays George, a Wall Street guy married to Linda (Aniston), a film-maker who hopes to sell her new documentary about penguins to HBO. They have just spent all their money buying a “mini-loft,” a microscopic studio apartment with a Murphy bed. Linda Lavin makes a welcome appearance as their realtor, her impeccably dry delivery making even a raunchy line sound crisp. George’s firm collapses and Aniston’s film is rejected for being too depressing (they can’t come up with a better joke than a film about penguin testicular cancer? and HBO saying they might be interested if it had vampires?), they have to leave New York for Atlanta, where George’s brother has promised him a job. The movie’s best scene is the sharply edited driving montage, as George and Linda alternate being sad and angry with the inevitable road trip sing-along to the Doobie Brothers.
George’s brother Rick (co-screenwriter Ken Marino) is a loudmouth vulgarian who lives in a hideously sterile McMansion with his substance-addled wife Marisa (Michaela Watkins, who was a hilarious Hoda Kotb on “SNL”). It isn’t enough that Rick is crass and obnoxious. He has to be in the port-a-potty business. George and Linda can’t stand it, and decide to return to the place where they spent the night on the drive down, an “intentional community” run by a charismatic leader named Seth (Justin Theroux). Everything seems idyllic, filled with peace, harmony, and sharing. Linda is very happy, even after the “tea” they give her in the Truth Circle causes her to hallucinate that she can fly. But George starts to feel vulnerable and jealous, especially when the sharing extends to having sex with other partners.
The film-makers did much better with Rudd’s “Role Models,” which had a central sweetness and benefited from a storyline that had the adults more immature than the children and a rousing KISS-inspired RPG finale. This movie’s jokes are as tired and saggy as its aging nudists. It is painful to see talented performers Watkins, Lauren Ambrose (radiantly beautiful as an ur-mother-to-be), Alan Alda (as the community’s founder), and Kathryn Hahn (who was wonderful with Rudd in “How Will I Know”) trying so hard to make the dismal script funny. Idiotic low points include a childbirth scene, Rudd’s attempts to psych himself up for his first non-marital sexual encounter, a topless protest against casino developers (calm down, boys, Aniston is pixilated), and plot developments that make no sense whatsoever. It would be fatal to the movie that even the slackest attempts at characterization are jettisoned to flail at some inconsistent comic possibility if the movie wasn’t already DOA.
Parents should know that this movie includes extremely crude and explicit sexual references and situations, male and female nudity, potty humor, explicit childbirth scene, very strong and crude language, marijuana and hallucinogens.
Family discussion: How did George and Linda respond differently to the experience of the intentional community? What did they learn from the Truth Circle?
If you like this, try: “Role Models” and “Flirting With Disaster”