Just a few short weeks after signing the lease on their dream apartment in New York City, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are forced to leave it behind when George's company is raided by the FBI and HBO decides to pass on Linda's latest passion project (a documentary about penguins suffering from testicular cancer). Professionally adrift and financially unstable, it seems like their only choice is to live with George's horrible brother Rick (co-writer Ken Marino) and his visibly unhappy, perpetually drunk wife Marissa (Michaela Watkins), but on the drive down, they stay overnight at a commune called Elysium, and the relaxed vibe calls to them. After a depressing few days trying to deal with Rick and Marissa, they dash back to Elysium, ready to embrace the bohemian lifestyle.
The newest film from the brain trust that resulted in "The State," Wet Hot American Summer, and "Stella," Wanderlust is director David Wain's follow up to Role Models. In both films, our "normal" protagonists are forced to try and get along with people they consider to be weird, but Role Models was careful to make those outcasts just as easy to empathize with. In Wanderlust, everyone other than George and Linda is basically a sketch comedy character, and therefore they don't really learn anything from the people at Elysium so much as go on their own dramatic journey while Elysium exists around them.
It doesn't help that the hippies here lean toward the stereotypical. A blissful den mother (Kerri Kenney-Silver), a sexual free spirit (Malin Åkerman), a cheery nudist with no sense of boundaries (Joe Lo Truglio), and a charismatic leader (Justin Theroux) who swoops in on Linda with ridiculous guitar skills and the promise of liberation all sound like the first characters anyone writing about a commune would invent, and although all of them score laughs, they do so by moving away from these cliches instead of towards them. Even Alan Alda's role as the commune's original founder -- the "cool" hippie who lives the lifestyle but can see right through it -- is pretty uninspired. Several fringe characters make more of an impression, like Marissa (passive-aggressive) and Rick (aggressive-aggressive); Todd Barry in a short cameo as one of Rudd's douchey co-workers; and the complete "Stella" lineup of Wain, Michael Showalter, and Michael Ian Black, who appear with Jessica St. Clair as a team of innuendo-happy newscasters.
Still, Wain can fall back on Paul Rudd, the least secret weapon in his comedy arsenal, and his willingness to perform or react to whatever Wain puts in front of him at a comic volume anywhere from 1 to 25 is enough to prop up the film all by itself. Even having seen it in countless other films, it's amazing how Rudd can score huge laughs with just the raise of an eyebrow, a blank stare, or a perfectly-timed verbal stumble, and yet he's also perfectly willing to take his performance to a level few actors would be willing to consider, tackling a bathroom pep talk and the result that follows with what can only be described as "gusto." He and Aniston make a good team, although her goofiness is subdued; she more capably carries the film's dramatic half. (She's also saddled with an unfortunate mood swing dictated by reshoots; I see why audiences rejected the original version -- see the extras section for more -- but this version is also frustrating.)
Wanderlust is frequently hilarious, thanks in no small part to a stable of funny people who are more than comfortable working with one another. At the same time, it's a messy film that fails to find a way to take characters that are meant to be changing the protagonists' lives seriously. The film tells us, by way of George and Linda's ups and downs, that there must be some truth to the lifestyle choices of the people at Elysium, but we never really get to see what it is. Funny but a little empty, Wain and Marino would've been wise to take a cue from their own story and give in a little more to the Elysium lifestyle.
Universal offers Wanderlust in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack, which uses the best of Universal's poster artwork for the movie, showing off a few of the commune's residents (some of the other posters were unusually boring). The UltraViolet digital copy can be accessed using a code printed on a flyer inside the case, and the whole package is wrapped in a cardboard slipcover with almost identical artwork.
The Video and Audio
Wanderlust's 1080p 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer looks pretty fantastic. Fine detail is through the roof, contrast is strong, and I didn't spot any compression artifacts, edge enhancement, or any other digital defects. My only minor complaint (which is more about the cinematography than the transfer) is that the colors seem a touch muted, with a hint of gray to everything (a hallmark of modern movies).
A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is punchy and lively all the way through. You can hear the difference between the big city and the open fields and hills of Elysium, not to mention the dialogue is razor-sharp at all times, and Craig Wedren's catchy score is rendered faithfully and energetically. English Descriptive Video 2.0, Spanish DTS 5.1, French and Spanish subtitles, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
The biggest extra on the Blu-Ray (an exclusive) is Wanderlust: The Bizarro Cut (1:19:59). Wain and Marino present this edit as "complete" in their introduction, but all of the connective tissue -- anything the audience would need to know but would learn watching the theatrical cut -- is not actually included here, rendering this less a true alternate version than a less-exciting 80-minute reel of deleted and alternate scenes in the story's chronological order. There are some huge laughs in here (like an extended salad-tossing analogy and an even trippier version of the dream sequence), and it's really fascinating to see footage that clearly indicates test audiences' disapproval of Linda's sexual freedom signifcantly altered Jennifer Aniston's role in the film, but, all things considered, I'd rather have watched this material as plain old deleted scenes.
Next up is an audio commentary by director/producer/co-writer David Wain, producer/co-writer/actor Ken Marino, and producer/actor Paul Rudd. The trio chat about the genesis of the script, how all the actors came on board, logical inconsistencies, and test audiences. They're also "joined" by Albert Brooks, Woody Allen, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, Bill Clinton, William Shatner, Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, and many other celebrities, all of whom are really impressions done by actor Kevin Pollak. It's a hilarious track, both for the trio's reaction to each impression to the running gag about Pollak's role in the film being excised.
Video extras kick-off with a phenomenally funny gag reel (5:44), and a surprisingly unfunny "Line-O-Rama" (9:10). Apparently all the deleted scenes made it into the Bizarro Cut, because none are included. Featurettes follow: "God Afton!: Behind the Scenes of Wanderlust" (27:13) is a making-of that feels painfully perfunctory when the cast is being interviewed but showcases a ton of great B-roll footage from the set. Next up is Penis Envy (7:41), a fairly funny gag doc about Joe Lo Truglio's complex about his prosthetic appendage, and "The Elysium Campaign" (5:38), showcasing Jordan Peele's strong Obama impression. The whole package is rounded out by an episode of Wain's webshow "Wainy Days: Elysium" (8:37), which finds David stumbling onto the commune and having his own sexual awakening, plus robots.
Trailers for American Reunion, American Pie 1-3 on Blu-Ray, Jaws on Blu-Ray, "Shark Week: 25th Anniversary," Big Miracle, "Transformers: The Ride - 3D," Being Flynn, and Universal Combo Pack play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Wanderlust is also included. The DVD Copy of Wanderlust includes all of the extras except the Bizarro Cut.
Wanderlust is not as effective as Role Models, but it's still a very funny movie, especially for existing fans of David Wain's particular brand of comedy. This Blu-Ray release looks and sounds great and comes with a great commentary and gag reel, as well as an alternate version of the film with some very funny alternate scenes. Recommended.
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