With Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Lauren Ambrose. Written by David Wain & Ken Marino. Directed by David Wain. Rated R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use). 98 minutes.
Apparently, there are movie fans who enjoy watching comedies in which the main character spends much of the movie being humiliated. The why of this is best left to those who deal with human psychology for a living. However, movies like WANDERLUST are little more than comedic versions of torture-porn movies like “Saw.” Viewers are invited to enjoy the suffering of others (go figure).
George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are a New York couple on the ropes. Having just bought a tiny condo – a “microloft” according to the realtor – George loses his job and Linda finds that her latest project, a documentary about penguins with testicular cancer, is rejected by HBO. Desperate, they head to Atlanta where George is promised a job by his obnoxious older brother Rick (co-screenwriter Ken Marino).
Along the way, they spend the night at a commune called Elysium where peace, love and pot prevail. They have a peaceful stay there and when life with Rick proves unbearable, George suggests that he and Linda go back. There they discover that the founder (Alan Alda) is senile, the spiritual leader Seth (Justin Theroux) is a nitwit who has the hots for Linda, and that privacy – even in the bathroom – is unknown.
George is insulted, belittled, has a naturist wave his private parts at him, and is continually shown up by Seth, who eventually has sex with Linda. Since the commune is about free love, George gets his opportunity with Seth’s girlfriend Eva (Malin Akerman), with the expected humiliating results. Indeed, the running joke here is not only that George is shown up by idiotic, self-absorbed twits, but that his own wife takes their side over him. Are you laughing yet?
The film has the occasional laugh or clever twist, but not enough to redeem it. It’s funny to watch the men on an Atlanta newscast reveal themselves to be sexist pigs because they seem entirely oblivious to just how obnoxious they are being. Yet when Almond (Lauren Ambrose) gives birth while sitting on the porch with George, and then walks around with the placenta and umbilical cord waiting for it to fall off “naturally,” we’re in moron territory.
Or perhaps it would be fairer to say “Judd Apatow territory” because he’s billed as one of the producers of the film. Unlike many of his films, it’s not overlong at 98 minutes. It just feels that way. Yet the comedy is entirely hit-or-miss, often appealing to the lowest common denominator. Among the supposed sources of comedy are naked old people, people being obliviously selfish, excrement, and a child swearing. This isn’t exactly George Bernard Shaw. It’s not even Jerry Lewis.
There’s a germ of an idea for a comedy in “Wanderlust,” but instead of letting it grow, the people involved have instead allowed it to fester. Don’t let yourself get infected. Why not just watch two good movies, and call me in the morning?•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.