If you’re going to do a romantic comedy, you can go about it in one of two ways. You can make an organic piece or you can put together a series of devices. Valentines Day (2010) is a member of the latter category. Wanderlust (2012) is mostly the former. The preview doesn’t really give that impression and I certainly went into the movie thinking that I would be writing a disappointed review. That’s not the case here.
George (Paul Rudd) will do mostly anything for Linda (Jennifer Aniston). She pressures him into buying a micro-loft apartment (read: coffin-sized studio apartment), but that doesn’t really work out. George loses his job and Linda, who is rather fickle in the career department, doesn’t bring in any real income. She made a documentary on penguins getting testicular cancer. [Insert great HBO teasing here.] So, they move out and go to live with George’s brother (Ken Marino) in Atlanta. On the way, they find Elysium, an intentional community (read: commune of hippies) and like it. When things don’t go well in Atlanta, they go back to Elysium where the bloom stays not overlong on the rose. How will it turn out? Synthesis, obviously. But it’s really the journey, right?
The success of the movie relies mostly upon Rudd. Aniston falls in with the hippies in a pretty big way and thus fades back into the chorus. Rudd and Aniston have fair-to-good chemistry and the most is made of it. And, like all Judd Apatow movies, there is a large amount of awkwardness and caricatured characters. Apatow’s contribution to comedy is basically the formula of the reasonable man and semi-reasonable woman surrounded by oddities.
Did I mention the movie is hilarious?
There are two runs that are absolutely fantastic. The first happens in the car ride from New York to Atlanta. It’s a kind of montage where the pair change places, attitudes, and conversations. It’s not new, but this one also has the merit of development allowed to extend beyond two or three laughs. Example: They listen to a song (as they would0 and they don’t really know the words, interlude, same song but they know a little more, interlude, they’re pitch perfect and anticipate the tune. It’s a little touch, but details is where greatness lies.
The second run is Rudd staring into the mirror and trying to jazz himself up for a private commune with the beautiful Eva (Malin Akerman). It goes on for so long and is tear-inducingly funny. Oscar Wilde it ain’t, but if you don’t laugh, you’re already dead.
Again, Rudd is great in this movie. He’s interesting because he isn’t someone that makes a movie a must-see–not in the “Oh, he’s in it? Let’s go,” kind of way, but he does deliver almost every time. His choices, I think, will be his undoing.
Anniston is less than stellar. She’s kind of fallen back into being a stock character in this movie that she dropped in movies like The Break-Up (2006) or The Switch (2010). This isn’t as bad as it could have been, but she doesn’t bring the level of personality you see in those movies.
Apatow’s next contribution to comedy, which we might dispute as beneficial, is to be what my mother might call “foul.” Sometimes that’s allowed. Other times it isn’t. Wanderlust does both. I think they can’t help themselves. It’s the kind of comedy that declares something taboo with brutal literalness. That works only in the mouth of a caricature, not in anyone of even the barest normality.
Downsides are also typical of Apatow and modern American romcoms, generally: so much cheese that Krafts may be going out of business. This isn’t Valentine’s Day cheesy–could there be anything as sappy?–but it does have that kind of resolution that ties everything up so tightly that you lose interest.
I also think that Seth (Justin Theroux), as a character, needed a lot more work. He fits into the kind of supposed-to-be-hot bad guy that challenges our hero’s ability to keep his girl, but is too stupid to function. Again, it’s caricature, fine, but it keeps the film’s brow distinctly low. His plot, with the deed, is just bad, man. Just. Bad.
Is this a movie you should buy? No. But it is worth going to see next weekend. Laughing your guts out is worth $10 (or whatever).