It’s been a highly implied myth in movie making, that revealing too much often leads to disappointment. In horror movies, the more you see of the masked killer the less thrilling he (or sometimes she) appears; popping out of the shadows is a murderer’s most valuable asset at providing cheap scares anyway. In creature features, quick flashes of the monster are more menacing and effective then actually displaying it in full-frontal, a method that Cloverfield followed yet still fell victim too.
Comedy on the other hand, is riddled with outlandish situations full of vulgarity and gags of disgusting nature. It’s as field that is incredibly easy to overdo but hard to stay subtle in, especially in this Apatow age of laughs. Wanderlust is not a complete waste of time, or devoid of smart jokes, it just has nothing interesting to say about a society of nudists other than showing a large amount of bare flesh. It overdoes overdone.
At least the movie begins well enough, with married couple George and Linda (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) going through the motions of living the good life in New York. By good life, that implies they have cushy jobs and a nice apartment but not enough time or energy to be able to spend a night together as a couple. Rudd can play a self-centered suit in his sleep and the sight of him getting hit by a cab while still completely involved in his cell phone conversation gives Wanderlust some playful juice early on. But once the two New Yorkers lose their high-end lifestyles, they decide to go on a road trip that begins with a stop in Atlanta to visit George’s brother (played by Ken Marino).
This is where the film begins to be a hit or miss comedy, mostly comprised of gags wildly misplacing the target. George’s brother and his wife have a bit that is beyond cringe worthy in its awkwardness, one of the first failed attempts at combining wild absurdity and streamlined humor. This trend continues once George and Linda accidentally arrive at Elysium, a nudist resort with plenty of flopping prosthetics hanging around. The concept of the two yuppies learning to appreciate the smaller things gives way instead to the idea of a high strung couple learning to become unstrung. This of course, involves hallucinating drugs, milking cows and orgies.
Even the raunchiest comedies of the past five years had some substance beyond the sights and sounds included within an R-rating. Yet Wanderlust struts around for over an hour with nothing to say about George and Linda’s change into more free flowing people. They are tossed into a situations devoutly made to push the limits of excessive craziness. David Wain, who directed the criminally underrated comedy Role Models, still has a handle of utilizing Rudd’s tone deaf responses successfully which helps give Wanderlust a dose of much needed reality at times. But every quick joke or ideal use of improvisation is overshadowed by sexual innuendos and ‘in your face’ gross out gags.
Aside from Rudd and Aniston, there’s a lot of characters working the scenery and pining for attention. Justin Theroux, Alan Alda and Malin Akerman get the most screen time as residents of Elysium. Theroux goes to town with the hippy stereotype while the others have their individual moments that grow tiresome after they’re are reduced to being one-note characters tirelessly repeating the same joke for maximum worth.
Joe Lo Truglio, a veteran now in supporting roles alongside Rudd, almost walks away with the picture as Wayne, mainly due to shock value. He’s the happy go lucky occupant who greets George and Linda to Elysium and gets them accustomed to the naked body quite quickly. Truglio is always likable in his small parts but in Wanderlust he stands out as the only person to constantly generate laughter every time he pops up onscreen.
Even if Wanderlust is a bust, Rudd and Aniston will walk away from it with no repercussions. The two do what’s asked of them and they perform maniacally when the timing is right. After a good start, the film has nowhere to go and makes too many odd steps into irremediable territory.
If Wain had focused more on George and Linda as characters instead of props, their time in Elysium would be more relatable to audiences who all work the dull nine to five jobs. Wanderlust just doesn’t look past the perception of nudity among a nudist society, a good film would have. But then again, a good film would not have centered on nudists to begin with, they don’t hide anything.