Wanderlust (***)

The latest comedy from the Judd Apatow stable isn’t quite up to what the usual standards represent, but ‘Wanderlust’ is a sufficiently weird mix between cult filmmaker David Wain and the Apatow sensibility. It doesn’t hurt that the talented cast (led by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) is extremely game for what Wain and his co-writer Ken Marino have cooked up for them. It’s certainly a somewhat mainstream Wain project (much like ‘Role Models’, only weirder), but it’s pretty out there at times. If this sounds like a bit of a mixed bag, it’s because it really is one. It often lacks focus and doesn’t really have a big comedic high point to really get the funny shooting out at you. That being said, I laughed a lot during this 90 minute flick, and got 3 or 4 really big belly laughs, and if a comedy can do that, you tend to be very forgiving of it. I’d never argue that it’s a great film, but it’s not hard to call it the funniest movie of 2012 so far. There hasn’t exactly been much competition so far, but it certainly does its job and entertains you from start to finish. I’d never say to mistake this for some comedy masterpiece, but the acting, directing, and writing are all working on all cylinders to make you laugh…and the effort is not in vain.

Centered around a married couple looking to escape the hustle and bustle of New York City due to job loss, the flick manages to satirize both big city and communal living. When George (Rudd) and Linda (Aniston) buy a micro-loft (really just a studio apartment) in Manhattan, they do so hoping that he’s in line for a big promotion and she’s about to get her wildlife documentary picked up by HBO. Sadly, neither of these things happen, and in fact George winds up losing his job. Without any money, they pack up and head down to Atlanta to stay with his jerk brother Rick (Ken Marino). Along they way, they accidentally stop for the night at Elysium, an “intentional community” and like what they see. The place is run by a weirdo named Seth (Justin Theroux) and an elder named Carvin (Alan Alda), but the entire colony welcomes them with open arms. When living with and working for Rick becomes too much for George, he suggests going back and trying to live at Elysium. He’s all in, but Linda isn’t sold at first. However, soon the tables are turned, and with George somewhat shunned and Linda embraced, marital tensions begin to rise up.

The acting is comedically effective, if not especially demanding of anyone. These are easy roles for Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, but they pull them off quite well. I find it odd that Rudd isn’t frowned at for doing this type of performance over and over again (not that I have a problem with it, quite the contrary, actually), but Aniston is criticized for just trading on her Rachel Green character from ‘Friends’. That’s an article for another time though…just know that they’re both believable and funny as the straight men in a world of loons. Going especially over the top is Justin Theroux, who appears to be having the time of his life. The rest of the cast is fine, including the aforementioned Alan Alda and Ken Marino, in addition to the likes of Malin Ackerman, Lauren Ambrose, Todd Barry, Kathryn Hahn, and Joe Lu Truglio. Almost everyone in the cast gets their moment to shine, and they all make the most of it.

David Wain turns in his most confident directorial effort to date, even if the script he co-wrote with Marino isn’t quite as clever as in the past. Both are solid jobs though, and fit the material well. Wain is an acquired taste, and while this will play in multiplexes far easier than something like ‘Wet Hot American Summer’, it’s still plenty weird and could confuse some innocent viewers. He’s also grown to be fond of male nudity, but working with Judd Apatow will do that to you. Somehow, they still manage to make it funny, so I’m definitely not complaining one bit.

‘Wanderlust’ ia a bit unfocused at times, but it’s definitely a funny flick and it’s hard to dislike it. If you’re main goal at the movies is to laugh, this is your best bet so far this year. I’d have liked the satire to be a little stronger, but it’s hardly a bit complaint. For the occasional missteps, the film does at least 2 more things right. I’m recommending this movie to you…just don’t expect a masterpiece or anything like that. Just expect to laugh!

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