Review: Contrived and Poorly Written ‘Wanderlust’ Fails to Turn Up Any Likable Characters

By  · Published on February 24th, 2012

George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) live for the fast-paced lifestyle of New York City. Until, that is, things go wrong and they decide they just can’t deal with it any longer. The married couple then head to Atlanta to live with George’s obnoxious brother, but end up spending the night at a roadside bed-n-breakfast that turns out to be a hippie commune. After sampling a combo platter of drugs and other alternative lifestyle trappings, they have second thoughts about returning to any life outside of the commune…and then have third thoughts about their second thoughts.

Director David Wain and actor Ken Marino penned the script for Wanderlust, just as they previously did for Role Models. The problem is that where Role Models is a mildly absurd situational comedy peppered with fully developed characters who grow as people without betraying who they are, Wanderlust is a flaccid, one-note joke with possibly some of the most wishy-washy leads in recent cinematic history, and nary a likable character to otherwise be found. Wain and Marino have created a joke dome in the Elysium Community outside of which they seem to have very little confidence in their ability to make us laugh. They therefore construct contrivance after contrivance to drop their leads back at the commune and mistakenly assume that the dramatic tension will be inherent in their repeated exit from it.

The real trouble with Wanderlust is that both George and Linda change their entire outlook on life at the drop of a hat in service to the “joke dome” construct. They have no idea what they want or what they like – and not in a “deep down, that’s how all people are” sort of way, but more in a “petulant child” sort of way. With both of them, particularly Linda, willing to sacrifice everything (including their own relationship) for fleeting moments of superficial happiness before they completely change their minds again on ridiculous whims, it’s impossible to like these two. Which just makes it unbearable to be forced to spend time with them, let alone to give two organic, grass-fed shits about where they finally end up.

In most romantic comedies, there often exists a story device I like to call the “Big Fight MacGuffin.” Essentially what has to happen is that the two characters in love must squabble over some petty disagreement or major misunderstanding, that in the real world would have been resolved in a few words, that temporarily separates the two and paves the way for their emotional reunion. It’s a MacGuffin because it actually doesn’t matter at all what the big fight is regarding, as long as the characters achieve decreased and then renewed proximity. But in Wanderlust, the writers care so little for the “Big Fight MacGuffin,” but yet somehow sill insist upon leaning on it, that it is actually completely falsified.

Let me break this down.

While at the commune, the hottest hippie who ever hipped, Eva (Malin Ackerman), informs newbie flower child George that all the residents engage in free love, and them invites him to liberally rake her peace garden. George is completely taken aback by this information and can’t think of a response. He immediately goes to Linda and, before he’s able to say a word to his own wife, the commune leader (Justin Theroux) informs her that Eva has offered to schtoop George. Still flabbergasted by the whole thing, George can only stammer. Later, when Linda randomly wants to remain at the commune and George wants to leave, he reminds her that remaining there means that they would have to engage in an open relationship. Mind you, he’s not saying this because he wants to sleep with other women; quite the opposite, he’s trying to get her to leave by reminding her of the danger that poses to their relationship. But Linda decides that staying in the commune is more important than being faithful – and she promptly bangs the douchey commune leader. She then tells George he has to sleep with Eva so she won’t feel so guilty, but he’s unable to get over his hang-ups about, you know, that whole monogamy thing and can’t go through with it. But then for some unknown reason, his jealousy becomes the root of their quarrel and people keep idiotically uttering to George “you’re the one who wanted this open relationship thing.” Which is flagrantly and categorically untrue. George never once states or indicates that he wants to cheat, and yet it keeps getting thrown in his face as the reason for the rift between he and Linda, the woman who actually cheated. George never bothers to correct anyone, even inexplicably accepting blame. In other words, the writers aren’t paying attention to their own script.

However, I don’t want to paint Wanderlust as a total failure. There are some genuinely funny moments in the film born both of the impeccably timed delivery of outlandish lines and creative editing choices; a near-ceaseless long shot of Ken Marino chasing his stolen car down the street is hysterical. I also liked the reunion of the guys from Stella (Wain, Michael Ian Black, and Michael Showalter) as the newswcasters serving as an uproariously warped Greek chorus of the film. Point of fact, I thought almost the entire first act worked pretty well, but then it devolved into a exhausting tug-of-war of waffling characterizations and unearned upheavals that only further cement this collection of carbon-based cinematic props as being thoroughly unpleasant. All the hippies (including Theroux’s character) deciding to be dicks to George for absolutely no reason was the nail in coffin. Creating an entirely new (read: woefully irritating) stereotype for hippies to exploit for base comedy effect.

But hey, at least everything wraps up in a saccharine, ultimately unsatisfying fashion, right?

The Upside: A few jokes that work. trapped within a movie that doesn’t.

The Downside: An incredibly weak script and a agonizing lack of likable characters.

On the Side: Friends is still cancelled.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.