What does a modern marriage look like? This definition continues to shift as people explore what works best for them. “Wanderlust” sounds like something out of a basic Instagram hashtag. However, Netflix’s new show by that name hints at something deeper. Its exploration of an open marriage explores some interesting questions. However, it opens itself up to other needless subplots that bog the proceedings down. What works comes with so much baggage, that it’s hard to be worth the slog.
Joy (Toni Collette) and Alan (Steven Mackintosh) can’t get on the same page about sex. This frustration leads them to the beds of other people. Rather than dissolve their marriage, Joy comes up with an idea to save their marriage. They decide to open up their marriage and allow for each other to entertain other sexual partners. Things don’t quite go according to plan, as this open relationship becomes challenged by others in their lives.
One must start off talking about Toni Collette. Quite simply, Toni Collette is one of our best living actresses who never gets the chance to shine. Her work in “Hereditary” proves what we already know, that her range, commitment and ability to amplify complex emotion is unparalleled. She sinks us right into Joy and her sexual frustrations. Even in Joy’s work as a therapist, Collette transmits her own marital frustrations and emotional burdens in every micro movement. It’s a stunning piece of acting. As her counterpart, Mackintosh is no slouch either. The two build a fully detailed and interesting portrait of a marriage. It feels completely lived in throughout.
If only the show works as quickly as Collette does. It takes one full hour-long episode before we get to the long line of the show. From here, we waste multiple chunks of each episode focusing on the couple’s kids. “Wanderlust” feels like it’s an ensemble show, when it never works well outside of its central characters. All of Joy and Alan’s kids serve as excess window dressing to discuss different views on the central open marriage. One of Joy’s patients (Jordan Adene) factors in more heavily to Joy’s internal and external debate. However, even later twists never feel organic or earned.
The show works best once it shifts its focus to meatier issues at hand with the concept. “Wanderlust” examines a marriage with great precision. However, in attacking the central couple’s intimacy problems, it opens up more issues around PTSD and grief. The fifth episode takes place solely during a one-hour therapy session with Collette and Sophie Okonedo, wonderful as Angela, Joy’s therapist. Angela never lets Joy move around difficult questions with deflection. It’s an acting high wire match, with both walking ahead winners.
With such amazing acting work and episode highlights, why does the six-episode season of “Wanderlust” feel like a chore at times. There exists a better version of this show that is a movie. A nice, tight 2-hour feature by Mike Leigh or Todd Field would really highlight the central themes at work here. Instead, we have an intermittently wonderful six-episode series that doesn’t know how to trim the fat. Toni Collette continues her amazing string of work in 2018. Hopefully, Hollywood takes notice and gives her the career she’s deserved for decades now.